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San  Francisco,  California 
2006 


YA-YA 


Compiled  by 
LYLE  SAXON,  State  Director, 
EDWARD  DREYER,  Asst.  State 
Director,  ROBERT  TALLANT, 
Special  Writer 


Material  Gathered  by   Workers  of 
the  Works  'Progress  Administration, 
Louisiana     Writers'     Project,     and 
Sponsored  by   The  Louisiana  State 
Library  Commission. 
Drawings  by  CAROLINK  DURIFUX 
Jacket  and  Decorations  by  * 
ROLAND  DUVERNET 
Illustrated  'with 
Photographs 

I 

A 


HOUGHTON  MIFFL1 
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LOUISIANA  WRITERS  PROJECT  PUBLICATIONS 

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Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

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Preface 


GUMBO  YA-YA—  'EVERYBODY  TALKS  AT  ONCE' —  IS 
a  phrase  often  heard  in  the  Bayou  Country  of  Louisiana. 

This  Gumbo  Ya-Ya  is  a  book  of  the  living  folklore  of  Louisiana. 
As  such  it  is  primarily  the  work  of  those  characters,  real  or  imag- 
inary, living  or  dead,  who  created  this  folklore.  We  wish  to  ex- 
press our  indebtedness,  therefore,  to  Madame  Slocomb,  who  was 
so  polite  that  she  invited  even  the  dead  to  her  parties;  and  to 
Valcour  Aime  and  the  golden  plates  at  the  bottom  of  the  Missis- 
sippi; to  Monsieur  Dufau  and  his  ciel-de-lits,  and  to  Tante  Na- 
omie,  bold  in  her  '  bare  feets'  at  the  blessing  of  the  shrimp  fleet; 
to  the  ghost  of  Myrtle  Grove  and  the  loup-garous  of  Bayou 
Goula;  to  Mike  Noud  and  'The  Bucket  of  Blood,'  and  to  Jennie 
Green  McDonald,  left  alone  in  the  original  Irish  Channel;  to 
Mrs.  Messina,  who  had  everything,  including  half  an  orphan, 
and  to  Mr.  Plitnick,  who  had  the  timidity;  to  Miss  Julie,  who 
rouged  her  roses,  and  to  Mrs.  Zito,  who  made  everybody  cry  to 
beat  the  band ;  to  Chief  Brother  Tillman,  for  whom  Mardi  Gras 
was  life,  and  to  Creola  Clark,  'who  kept  her  mind  on  Mama';  to 
John  Simms,'  Junior,  the  chimney  sweep  on  a  holiday,  and  to  all 
the  vendors  of  pralines  and  calas  tout  chauds;  to  Evangeline  and  to 
Lafitte  the  Pirate;  to  Annie  Christmas  and  Marie  Laveau;  to  Pere 
Antoine  and  Pepe  Lulla;  to  Mamzelle  Zizi  and  Josie  Arlington 
and  the  hop  head's  love,  'Alberta';  to  Long  Nose  and  Perfume 
Peggy;  to  Mother  Catherine  and  the  Reverend  Maude  Shannon; 
to  Coco  Robichaux  and  Zozo  la.Brique;  to  Crazah  and  Lala  and 
Banjo  Annie;  and  to  the  Baby  Doll  who  had  been  a  Baby  Doll  for 
twenty  years. 


vi  —  Preface 

The  material  for  this  book  was  gathered  by  members  of  the 
Louisiana  Writers'  Program  of  the  Work  Projects  Administra- 
tion. The  idea  was  suggested  by  Henry  G.  Alsberg  in  1936;  he 
was  then  the  National  Director  of  the  Federal  Writers'  Program. 
We  in  Louisiana  were  pleased  with  the  idea,  and  at  every  possible 
opportunity  assigned  workers  to  the  task  of  collecting  the  folk- 
lore of  the  State. 

The  Louisiana  Library  Commission,  of  which  Essae  M.  Culver 
is  Executive  Secretary,  has  sponsored  this  book,  as  well  as  the 
earlier  publication,  the  Louisiana  State  Guide.  The  city  of  New 
Orleans  sponsored  our  first  publication,  The  New  Orleans  City 
Guide. 

It  may  be  well  to  remember  that  Louisiana  was  first  a  French 
colony,  then  Spanish,  and  that  the  territory  was  nearly  a  century 
old  before  becoming  a  part  of  the  United  States.  It  was  an  agri- 
cultural territory  and  many  thousands  of  Negro  slaves  were  im- 
ported. In  the  plantation  sections  the  Negroes  outnumbered  the 
Whites  five  to  one;  consequently  their  contribution  to  the  folk- 
lore of  the  State  has  been  large. 

The  Creoles,  those  founders  of  the  French  colony,  contributed 
their  elegance,  their  customs,  and  cuisine.  They  influenced  their 
slaves  and,  in  a  sense,  their  slaves  influenced  them. 

In  Southwest  Louisiana  lived  the  Acadians  —  or  Cajuns,  as 
they  are  affectionately  called  —  those  sturdy  farming  folk  who, 
driven  from  their  homes  in  Nova  Scotia  at  the  end  of  the  eight- 
eenth century,  populated  that  area. 

It  would  seem  that  the  whole  of  Louisiana  was  a  peculiarly 
fecund  part  of  the  Americas;  the  forests  were  filled  with  birds  and 
animals,  the  bayous  and  lakes  were  teeming  with  fish,  and  the 
Creole  mansions  and  the  Cajun  cottages  were  full  of  children. 

In  a  leisurely  collection  of  the  folklore  of  the  various  racial 
groups,  we  have  attempted  to  have  the  collecting  of  material 
done  either  by  members  of  the  groups  themselves  or  by  those  long 
familiar  with  such  groups.  For  example,  in  the  stories  pertain- 
ing to  the  Creoles  much  of  the  work  was  done  by  Madame 
Jeanne  Arguedas,  Madame  Henriette  Michinard,  Monsieur  Pierre 
Lelong,  Caroline  Durieux,  and  especially  by  Hazel  Breaux,  who 


Preface  —  vii 

worked  untiringly  collecting  Creole  and  other  lore.  Many  old 
families  were  consulted  and  their  stories,  their  rhymes  and  jokes, 
have  been  written  down  here  for  the  first  time.  We  are  grateful, 
too,  to  Archbishop  Rummel  and  to  Roger  Baudier  of  '  Catholic 
Action  of  the  South'  for  advice  and  help. 

The  Cajuns  have  produced  many  State  leaders,  from  Governor 
Alexandre  Mouton  to  Jimmy  Domengeaux,  the  present  repre- 
sentative of  the  Bayou  Country  in  Congress.  In  this  book,  how- 
ever, we  have  attempted  to  treat  only  of  those  humbler  dwellers 
of  their  part  of  the  State.  Harry  Huguenot,  Velma  McElroy 
Juneau,  Mary  Jane  Sweeney,  Margaret  Ellis,  and  Blanche  Oliver 
worked  in  those  outlying  districts. 

Much  of  the  information  pertaining  to  the  Negro  was  col- 
lected by  Negro  workers.  Robert  McKinney  gathered  most  of 
the  material  in  the  chapter  entitled  '  Kings,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus, 
and  Queens.'  Marcus  B.  Christian,  who  was  Supervisor  of  the 
all-Negro  Writers'  Project,  also  contributed  to  the  book,  as  did 
Edmund  Burke.  Many  Negroes  who  were  not  connected  with 
the  Project  offered  information  and  suggestions.  Among  these 
were  Joseph  Louis  Gilmore,  Charles  Barthelemy  Rousseve,  author 
of  The  Negro  in  Louisiana,  President  A.  W.  Dent  of  Dillard  Uni- 
versity, and  Sister  Anastasia  of  the  Convent  of  the  Holy  Family. 

In  so  far  as  we  know,  certain  aspects  of  life  in  New  Orleans 
have  not  been  recorded  before,  such  as  the  chapters  dealing  with 
Saint  Joseph's  and  Saint  Rosalia's  Day,  the  Irish  Channel,  the 
Sockserhause  Gang,  Pailet  Lane,  and  the  '  scares'  in  the  chapter 
entitled  'Axeman's  Jazz,'  in  which  are  told  the  stories  of  such 
folk  characters  as  the  Axeman,  the  Needle  Man,  the  Hugging 
Molly \  and  the  Devil  Man.  We  have  attempted  also  to  explain 
the  mercurial  and  characteristic  reactions  to  these  horrors.  Maud 
Wallace,  Cecil  A.  Wright,  Catherine  Dillon,  Rhoda  Jewell,  Zoe 
Posey,  Joseph  Treadaway,  and  Catherine  Cassibry  Perkins  con- 
tributed to  these  sections  as  well  as  to  others. 

The  plates  in  this  volume  are  from  drawings  by  Caroline 
Durieux;  the  ghost  map,  the  headpieces,  and  the  tailpieces  are  by 
Roland  Duvernet.  Photographs,  except  for  those  where  credit  is 
specifically  given,  were  made  by  Victor  Harlow. 


viii  —  Preface 

We  are  grateful  to  those  earlier  writers  who  recorded  some  of 
the  phases  of  Louisiana  folklore  —  Alcee  Fortier,  Lafcadio 
Hearn,  Grace  King,  and  George  W.  Cable  —  as  well  as  to  such 
contemporary  writers  as  Doctor  William  A.  Read,  Edward 
Laroque  Tinker,  Roark  Bradford,  and  Doctor  Thad  St.  Martin. 

LYLE  SAXON 
EDWARD  DREYER 
ROBERT  TALLANT 


Contents 


i.    Kings,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus,  and  Queens  .       •  ,    •  i 

2..    Street  Criers      .       .    .  .       .-     .-•'.    .       .       .:     .  1.7 

3.  The  Irish  Channel  .      -.       .       .       .      ;*"••   .    "  ,  50 

4.  Axeman's  Jazz         .    v.       .       .•     .  •  ' ..  "    .    "  ,'  75 

5.  Saint  Joseph's  Day        .       .       .       .       .       .     ~ .,  93 

6.  Saint  Rosalia's  Day     '  w  '  ".       ...       .       .  107 

7.  Nickel  Gig,  Nickel  Saddle  .       .       .  '    .       .       .  12.1 

8.  The  Creoles     '.,:.- ^    .       .     '.       .       .       .  138 

9.  The  Cajuns      \       .       .       .       .       ....  179 

10.  The  Temple  of  Innocent  Blood  .....  107 

11.  The  Plantations       .       .'      .       .•''.:.'"';       .  2.12. 
12..   The  Slaves        '.       ....      '.1       .    ;  •  2.^4 

13.  Buried  Treasure       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .  ^58 

14.  GhoStS           *      ;.          .          .          .          .          .          *          .          .  2.JI 

15.  Crazah  and  the  Glory  Road       .       .       .'     A       .300 

16.  Cemeteries         .       .       .•      .       .'      ;       .       .     -  .  316 

17.  Riverfront  Lore       .       .       .       .       ...       .366 

18.  Pailet  Lane .       .-      .  385 

19.  Mother  Shannon     .       .••  "•—.-     :  •    .,  ^    ,       ...  397 

2.0.  The  Sockserhause  Gang       ,;.     .       .       *       .       .  413 

2.1.  Songs   .       .  ,    .       .       .     ..   >    ,       .- '-..:,     -.  .   :.  42.7 

2.2..   Chimney  Sweeper's  Holiday      ,       .       .      V     .  488 

2.^.    A  Good  Man  Is  Hard  To  Find  .      ..       .       .       .  496 

2.4.   Who  Killa  Da  Chief?     .       .       .     •&  wQk    .    :  .  505 
Appendixes 

A.  Superstitions         ....     ;.       .       .       .  5x5 

B.  Colloquialisms      .       .       .       ....       -559 

C.  Customs          .      .      .       »      •     .•     7      •      •  5^9 
Index          .       .        .       .       .  '    .  :    .       .       .       .     (  .  575 


List  of  Illustrations 


SIGNATURE  ONE  BETWEEN  PAGE  2.2.  AND  PAGE  2.} 

The  'Baby  Doll'  Appears  on  Mardi  Gras  and  Again  on  St.  Joseph's  Night 

A  Group  of  Baby  Dolls 

Queen  and  Maids  of  Honor  at  the  Zulu  Ball 

King  Zulu,  the  Negro  Monarch  of  Mardi  Gras 

Negroes  Dressed  as  Indians  for  Mardi  Gras 


SIGNATURE  TWO  BETWEEN  PAGE  54  AND  PAGE  55 

The  Rex  Parade  Passing  the  St.  Charles  Hotel  on  Mardi  Gras 

Adele  Street  Is  the  Heart  of  the  Irish  Channel 

'I'm  Irish  and  proud  of  it,'  Says  Mrs.  Louise  Allen 

'Many  a  good  fight  have  I  seen,'  Declares  Michael  Horn 

Cover  of  a  Piece  of  Sheet  Music  of  the  Axeman's  Jazz  Period 


SIGNATURE  THREE  BETWEEN  PAGE  Il8  AND  PAGE 

Mrs.  Caparo  Has  a  Fine  Altar  to  St.  Joseph 

'Saints'  Eating  by  the  St.  Joseph's  Shrine 

An  Elaborate  Cake  Baked  in  Honor  of  St.  Joseph 

Montalbano's  Altar  to  St.  Joseph 

St.  Rosalia  Is  Carried  in  Honor  from  Church  to  Church 
Mrs.  Zito  Makes  'a  Beautiful  Speech'  in  Honor  of  St.  Rosalia 


DRAWINGS  BY  CAROLINE  DURIEUX  BETWEEN  PAGE   150  AND 

PAGE  11 


xii  -  List  of  Illustrations 

SIGNATURE  FIVE  -  BETWEEN  PAGE  182.  AND  PAGE  183 

A  Cajun  Oysterman  of  Barataria  with  his  Oyster  Tongs 

A  Cajun  Fisherman's  Family  in  their  Bayou  Home 

Cajun  Girls  of  the  Bayou  Country 

Old  Cajun  Woman 

Shrimp  Fleet  Waiting  To  Be  Blessed 

The  Archbishop  on  the  Way  To  Bless  the  Shrimp  Fleet 


SIGNATURE  SIX  -  BETWEEN  PAGE  X^     AND  PAGE 

Statue  of  Mother  Catherine 
Mother  Catherine's  Statue  of  Jehovah 

Mother  Maude  Shannon,  Leader  of  a  Popular  Cult  of  Today 

When  the  '  Mother'  of  a  Cult  Dies  She  Is  Often  Buried  with  a  Crown 

on  her  Head 

SIGNATURE  SEVEN  -  BETWEEN  PAGE  2.78  AND  PAGE  2.79 

A  Haunted  Summer  House  at  'The  Shadows'  in  New  Iberia 

The  Strange  Old  LePrete  House  Has  Many  Ghostly  Legends 

Fort  Livingstone  and  Grande  Isle,  Once  the  Haunt  of  Lafitte's  Pirates 

Madame  Perrin  Who  Claims  That  Napoleon,  John  Paul  Jones  and  Pirate 

Lafitte  Are  Buried  in  the  Same  Grave 


DRAWINGS  BY  CAROLINE  DURIEUX  -  BETWEEN  PAGE  310 
AND  PAGE 


SIGNATURE  NINE  -  BETWEEN  PAGE  342.  AND  PAGE  343 
'Skeletons,'  a  Painting  by  Edward  Schoenberger,  Inspired  by 

New  Orleans  Cemeteries 

'The  Devil  in  a  Cemetery,'  Painting  by  John  McCrady 
The  Mausoleum  of  Michael  the  Archangel 

Old  Tomb,  Girod  Cemetery 

Charity  Hospital  Cemetery,  the  Potter's  Field 

St.  Louis  Cemeteries  List  Burial  Prices 


List  of  Illustrations  -  xiii 

SIGNATURE  TEN BETWEEN  PAGE  406  AND  PAGE  407 

Part  of  the  Ceremony  That  Precedes  All  Saints'  Day 

All  Saints'  Day  in  St.  Vincent  de  Paul  Cemetery 
On  All  Saints'  Day  Refreshments  and  Souvenirs  Are  Sold  at  the 

Cemetery  Gates 

'Banjo  Annie,'  One  of  the  Gayer  Characters  of  the  Vieux  Carre 
New  Orleans  Chimney  Sweeps 


Chapter  1 


Kings,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus,  and  Qiieens 


EVERY  NIGHT  IS  LIKE  SATURDAY  NIGHT  IN  PER- 
dido  Street,  wild  and  fast  and  hot  with  sin.  But  the  night  before 
Mardi  Gras  blazed  to  a  new  height. 

The  darkness  outside  the  bars  was  broken  only  by  yellow 
rectangles  of  light,  spreading  over  the  banquette,  then  quickly 
vanishing,  each  time  saloon  doors  opened  and  closed.  Music 
boxes  blasted  from  every  lighted  doorway.  Black  men  swag- 
gered or  staggered  past,  hats  and  caps  pulled  low  over  their  eyes, 
which  meant  they  were  tough,  or  set  rakishly  over  one  ear, 
which  meant  they  were  sports.  There  were  the  smells:  stale 
wine  and  beer,  whiskey,  urine,  perfume,  sweating  armpits. 

In  one  dimly  lighted  place  couples  milled  about  the  floor,  hug- 
ging each  other  tightly,  going  through  sensuous  motions  to  the 
music.  Drug  addicts,  prostitutes,  beggars  and  workingmen,  they 
were  having  themselves  a  time.  A  fat  girl  danced  alone,  snap- 
ping her  fingers. 

Young  black  women  tried  to  interest  men,  who  sagged  over 
the  bars,  their  eyelids  heavy  from  liquor  and  'reefers.'  One 
woman  screamed  above  the  din:  'I'll  do  it  for  twenty  cents,  Hot 
Papa.  I  can't  dance  with  no  dry  throat.  I  wants  twenty  cents 


2  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

to  buy  me  some  wine.'  She  did  a  little  trucking  step,  raised  her 
dress,  'showed  her  linen.' 

Harry  entered.  Somebody  shouted:  '  Shut  off  that  damn  music 
box.  Come  on,  Harry.  Put  it  on,  son!' 

Harry,  a  lean  brown  boy  in  a  red  silk  shirt  and  green  trousers, 
held  a  tambourine  high,  beat  out  an  infectious  tom-tom  tempo 
with  one  fist,  huskily  sang  words  that  had  no  meaning,  but  in  a 
rhythm  that  was  a  drug.  His  greasy  cap  low  over  one  ear,  thick 
lips  drawn  back  from  large  white  teeth,  he  performed  a  wild 
dance,  shoulders  hunched,  scrawny  hips  undulating. 

Hock-a-lee-hock-a-lee-weeooo ! 
Hock-a-lee-hock-a-lee-weeooo ! 
Wa-le-he-hela-wa-le-he-weeoo-oo! 

There  were  comments.  'Man,  those  Indians  gonna  step  high 
tomorrow.'  Harry's  chant  was  one  of  the  Indians'  songs. 

A  small  girl  shoved  her  way  through  the  crowd  around  the 
singer.  '  Wait '11  you  see  us  Baby  Dolls  tomorrow,'  she  promised. 
'  Is  we  gonna  wiggle  our  tails !'  A  man  threw  an  arm  around  her 
neck,  drew  her  away,  over  to  where  they  could  do  some  '  corner 
loving.' 

In  the  back  room  was  the  real  man  of  the  night.  His  face  a 
trifle  blank  from  whiskey,  his  eyes  sleepy,  King  Zulu  held  court. 
This  was  his  royal  reception.  Just  now  the  King  was  pretty 
tired.  The  Queen  rose  suddenly  and  moved  away  from  the  table, 
her  hips  shaking  angrily.  If  the  old  fool  wants  to  go  to  sleep,  let 
him.  She'll  find  herself  somebody  who  can  keep  his  eyes  open 
and  likes  some  fun.  She's  a  queen,  and  a  queen  has  to  have  her 
fun. 

Nobody  ever  goes  to  bed  on  this  night.  Ain't  tomorrow  the 
big  day?  Not  until  morning  do  they  ever  go  home,  and  then  only 
to  array  themselves  in  costumed  splendor. 

But  there  is  never  any  weariness  about  King  Zulu  on  Carnival 
Day.  With  his  royal  raiment,  he  magically  dons  fresh  energy.  A 
few  shots  of  whiskey  and  the  trick  is  done.  His  head  is  up,  his 
posture  majestic  —  at  least  in  the  beginning  of  the  day.  Later  he 
may  droop  a  bit. 

Strongarmed  bodyguards  and  shiny  black  limousines,  rented 


Kings ,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus,  and  Queens  -  $ 

from  the  Geddes  and  Moss  Undertakers,  always  accompany  him 
to  the  Royal  Barge  at  the  New  Basin  Canal  and  South  Carrollton 
Avenue.  Cannons  are  fired,  automobile  horns  blast,  throats  grow 
hoarse  acclaiming  him.  Many  a  white  face  laughs  upward  from 
the  sea  of  black  ones,  strayed  far  from  the  celebration  just-com- 
ing to  life  down  on  Canal  Street. 

There  was  suspense  this  morning.  Impatient  waiting.  At 
last,  about  nine  o'clock,  a  tugboat  pushed  the  Royal  Barge  away 
from  its  resting  place.  Whistles  shrieked.  The  horns  and  the 
applause  of  the  admiring  throng  increased.  The  King  took  a 
swig  from  a  bottle,  yelled  to  one  of  his  assistants,  'Listen,  you 
black  bastard,  you  can  help  me  all  you  want,  but  don't  mess 
'round  with  my  whiskey.*  Then  he  turned  and  bowed  gra- 
ciously toward  the  shore. 

The  other  Zulus  helped  His  Majesty  greet  the  crowds. 

'Hello,  Pete.    We  is  in  our  glory  today.' 

'What  you  say,  black  gal.' 

'Ain't  it  fine?' 

Never  have  any  of  the  Zulus  been  highhat.  Ed  Hill,  one  of  the 
organization's  overlords,  said:  'See  Zulu  people?  There  is  the 
friendliest  people  you  can  find.  They  ain't  no  stuffed  shirts.' 

The  Zulus  emerged  as  a  Mardi  Gras  organization  in  1910, 
marching  on  foot,  a  jubilee-singing  quartet  in  front,  another 
quartet  in  the  rear  Birth  had  come  the  year  before,  when  fifty 
Negroes  gathered  in  a  woodshed.  William  Story  was  the  first 
king,  wearing  a  lard-can  crown  and  carrying  a  banana-stalk 
scepter.  By  1913  progress  had  reached  the  point  where  King 
Peter  Williams  wore  a  starched  white  suit,  an  onion  stickpin, 
and  carried  a  loaf  of  Italian  bread  as  a  scepter.  In  1914  King 
Henry  rode  in  a  buggy  and  from  that  year  they  grew  increasingly 
ambitious,  boasting  three  floats  in  1940,  entitled  respectively, 
'The  Pink  Elephant,'  on  which  rode  the  king  and  his  escort, 
'Hunting  the  Pink  Elephant,'  and  'Capturing  the  Pink  Elephant.' 

It  was  in  192.2.  that  the  first  yacht  —  the  Royal  Barge  —  was 
rented,  and  since  then  the  ruler  of  the  darker  side  of  the  Carnival 
has  always  ridden  in  high  style  down  the  New  Basin  Canal. 

Clouds  hung  low  this  Mardi  Gras  Day  of  1940.   King  Zulu  and 


4  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya  ' 

his  dukes  sniffed  heavenward.  Let  it  rain.  Little  old  water  never 
hurt  a  mighty  Zulu.  White-painted  lips  never  lost  their  grins. 

At  Hagan  Avenue  the  floats  and  supply  of  coconuts  awaited 
them.  With  all  the  dignity  he  could  summon,  King  Zulu 
mounted  his  'Pink  Elephant/  and  the  others  clambered  aboard 
theirs.  Carefully,  His  Majesty  arranged  his  red-velvet-and- 
ermine  costume.  Then  a  signal,  and  the  parade  was  on. 

Out  Poydras  Street  to  Carondelet  they  rolled,  the  thirteen- 
piece  band  swinging  out  with  Til  Be  Glad  When  You're  Dead, 
You  Rascal,  You,'  in  torrid  style,  sixteen  black  'policemen'  lead- 
ing behind  the  long-legged  Grand  Marshal,  who  slung  his  body 
about  and  around  like  a  drum  major.  The  music  was  so  hot  the 
King  started  doing  his  number. 

Onlookers  leaped  into  the  street,  shouting,  'Do  it,  boy,  King 
Zulu  is  got  his  day.' 

Once  specially  appointed  black  'Mayor'  Fisher,  president  of 
the  club,  shouted:  'Doesn't  you  all  know  we  is  on  our  way  to  see 
the  white  mayor?  Let's  make  time.' 

And  time  was  made.  Hot  feet  hit  the  street.  More  viewers 
joined  the  parade  and  danced  up  a  breeze.  The  maskers  on  the 
floats  slung  coconuts  like  baseballs,  right  into  the  midst  of  their 
admirers . 

Once  the  perspiring  monarch  uncrowned  himself.  Prince 
Alonzo  Butler  was  shocked.  'King,  is  you  a  fool  or  not?  Don't 
you  know  a  king  must  stay  crowned?' 

This  particular  king  wasn't  really  supposed  to  be  king  at  all, 
and  he  felt  mighty  lucky  about  it.  Johnny  Metoyer  was  to  have 
been  the  1940  ruler,  but  Johnny  had  died  months  before.  An 
'evil  stroke'  had  hit  Johnny  suddenly  the  November  before  and 
within  a  few  days  Johnny  was  gone.  This  parade  was  partly  in 
celebration  of  his  memory. 

'Them  niggers  is  going  to  put  it  on  rough  for  ole  John,'  Charlie 
Fisher  had  vowed.  'There  ain't  going  to  be  no  hurting  feet  and 
things  like  that,  either,  'cause  them  niggers  don't  get  no  hurting 
feet  on  Mardi  Gras  Day.  No,  indeed.  Them  feet  stays  hot  and, 
boy,  when  they  hits  the  pavement  serenading  to  that  swing 
music,  you  can  hear  'em  pop.  It's  hot  feet  beating  on  the  blocks. ' 

Manuel  Bernard  was  the  1940  King  Zulu  and  he  was  a  born 
New  Orleans  boy.  Other  days  he  drives  a  truck. 


Kings,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus,  and  Queens 

Gloom  was  in  the  air  before  Johnny  Metoyer  went  to  glory. 
He  had  been  president  and  dictator  of  the  organization  for 
twenty-nine  years,  but  had  never  chosen  to  be  king  until  now. 
And  this  year  he  had  announced  his  intention  of  being  king,  and 
then  resigning  from  the  Zulu  Aid  and  Pleasure  Club.  This, 
everyone  had  agreed,  probably  meant  disbanding.  It  just 
wouldn't  be  the  same  without  ole  John.  Even  the  city  officials 
were  worrying.  It  seemed  like  the  upper  class  of  Negroes  had 
been  working  on  Johnny,  and  had  at  last  succeeded. 

The  Zulus  had  no  use  for  'stuck-up  niggers.'  Their  member- 
ship is  derived  from  the  humblest  strata,  porters,  laborers,  and  a 
few  who  live  by  their  wits.  Professional  Negroes  disapprove  of 
them,  claiming  they  '  carry  on'  too  much,  and  '  do  not  represent 
any  inherent  trait  of  Negro  life  and  character,  serving  only  to 
make  the  Negro  appear  grotesque  and  ridiculous,  since  they  are 
neither  allegoric  nor  historical.' 

When,  in  November,  1939,  word  came  that  Johnny  Metoyer 
was  dead,  people  wouldn't  believe  it.  The  night  the  news  came, 
the  Perdido  Street  barroom  was  packed.  Representatives  of  the 
Associated  Press,  the  United  Press  and  the  local  newspapers 
rubbed  shoulders  with  Zulus,  Baby  Dol|s  and  Indians.  The  at- 
mosphere was  deep,  dark  and  blue.  Everybody  talked  at  once. 

'Ain't  it  a  shame?' 

'Poor  John!   He's  gotta  have  a  helluva  big  funeral.' 

'Put  him  up  right  so  his  body  can  stay  in  peace  for  a  long  time 
to  come.' 

Somebody  started  playing  'When  the  Saints  Come  Marching 
In,'  written  by  Louis  'Satchmo'  Armstrong,  Metoyer's  bosom 
friend.  Then  it  is  suggested  that  a  telegram  be  sent  to  Arm- 
strong. He's  tooting  his  horn  at  the  Cotton  Club  on  Broadway, 
but  it  is  felt  he'll  board  a  plane  and  fly  down  for  the  funeral. 

A  doubt  was  voiced  that  any  Christian  church  would  accept 
the  body  for  last  rites.  'John  was  a  man  of  the  streets,  who  ain't 
never  said  how  he  stood  on  religion.'  Probably,  others  said  con- 
fidently, if  there  were  enough  insurance  money  left,  one  of  the 
churches  could  be  persuaded  to  see  things  differently.  Of  course, 
he  would  be  buried  in  style  befitting  a  Zulu  monarch.  Members 
must  attend  in  full  regalia,  Johnny's  body  must  be  carried 


6  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

through  headquarters,  there  must  be  plenty  of  music,  coconuts 
on  his  grave.  Maybe  Mayor  Maestri  could  be  persuaded  to  pro- 
claim the  day  a  holiday  in  Zululand. 

But  Johnny  had  a  sister;  Victoria  Russell  appeared  on  the 
scene  and  put  down  a  heavy  and  firm  foot.  All  attempts  to  make 
the  wake  colorful  were  foiled.  'Ain't  nobody  gonna  make  a 
clown's  house  out  of  my  house,'  said  Sister  Victoria  Russell. 

Even  the  funeral  —  held  on  a  Sunday  afternoon,  amid  flowers 
and  fanfare  and  a  crowd  of  six  thousand  —  was  filled  with  dis- 
appointments. Louie  Armstrong  had  not  been  able  to  make  the 
trip  down  from  New  York.  Sister  Russell  banned  the  coconuts 
and  the  Zulu  costumes. 

At  the  Mount  Zion  Baptist  Church  Reverend  Duncan  mum- 
bled his  prayers  in  a  whisper,  peeping  into  the  gray  plush  casket 
every  now  and  then.  He  opened  with  a  reprimand.  'Does  you 
all  know  this  is  a  funeral,  not  a  fun-making  feast?' 

A  drunken  woman  in  the  church  yelled:  'I  knows.  It  brings  a 
pitiful  home.' 

Reverend  Duncan  went  on,  while  pallbearers  raised  Zulu  ban- 
ners. 'In  the  midst  of  life  we  is  in  death.' 

The  congregation  san£,  'How  Sweet  Is  Jesus!' 

Reverend  Horace  Nash  knelt  and  prayed:  'Lawd,  look  at  us. 
Keep  the  spirit  alive  that  makes  us  bow  down  before  you.  Keep 
our  hearts  beating  and  our  souls  ever  trustful  today  and  to- 
morrow.' 

Somebody  shouted,  'Don't  break  down,  brother.' 

Outside  waited  a  fourteen-piece  brass  band  and  eighteen  auto- 
mobiles. Thousands  marched  on  foot.  The  band  struck  up  '  Flee 
as  a  Bird,'  and  the  cortege  was  on  its  way  toward  Mount  Olivet 
Cemetery.  Everyone  was  very  solemn,  and  there  was  not  a  smile 
visible.  All  Zulus  wore  black  banners  draped  across  their  chests 
and  their  shoulders. 

Then,  after  the  hearse  had  vanished  into  the  cemetery,  the  en- 
tire aspect  of  the  marchers  changed.  The  band  went  into  '  Beer 
Barrel  Polka,'  and  dancing  hit  the  streets.  Promenading  in 
Mardi  Gras  fashion  lasted  two  hours,  ending  in  Metoyer's  own 
place  of  business,  where  the  last  liquor  was  purchased  and  con- 
sumed. Sister  Russell,  returning  to  the  scene,  then  ordered  all 
Zulus  out. 


Kings,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus,  and  Queens  —  7 

Later  a  meeting  was  called  in  Johnny  Metoyer's  bedroom.  His 
belongings  had  been  removed,  but  his  razor  strop  still  dangled  on 
one  wall.  A  member,  gazing  at  this  sadly,  remarked,  'John  was 
the  shavingest  man  you  wanted  to  see.' 

At  eight-thirty  Reverend  Foster  Sair  opened  with  a  prayer. 

'Lawd,  we  is  back  within  the  fold  of  the  man  who  caused  us 
to  be.  We  is  sittin'  here  in  his  domicile.  Help  us  never  to  forget 
John  L.  Metoyer.  Let  us  carry  on  the  spirit  of  our  founder.  O 
Lawd,  preserve  our  club.  Make  it  bigger  and  better.  Let  no  evil 
creep  into  it.  Amen.' 

Inspired  by  this,  it  was  immediately  decided  that  the  Zulus 
would  'carry  on,'  that  there  would  be  a  parade  this  year,  any- 
way. Then  Vice-President  Charlie  Fisher  announced  he  was 
stepping  into  the  presidency,  and  that  all  other  officers  would 
advance  in  office  in  proper  order. 

Definite  insults  followed  from  those  who  disapproved. 

'Shut  up!'  someone  admonished  them.  'You  is  talkin'  about 
the  President  now.'  j  wu 

There  was  more  argument  and  bickering  in  the  meetings  that 
followed.  Manuel  Bernard,  friend  of  Fisher,  was  at  last  chosen 
to  be  the  1940  king.  At  this  meeting  the  music  box  in  the  front 
bar  wailed  forth  with  'The  Good  Morning  Blues,'  and  dancers 
were  kicking  and  stomping,  twisting  their  supple  bodies  the  way 
they  felt.  It  disturbed  the  meeting  a  little,  but  someone  said: 
1  Let  the  music  play,  'cause  the  mournin'  is  over.  We  is  all  gotta 
do  some  flippin'  around  now.' 

So  the  Zulus  didn't  fade  out  after  all,  but  marched  in  high 
style  in  1940,  and  Manuel  Bernard,  rocking  back  and  forth  on  the 
high  throne  of  his  float,  was  a  proud  and  happy  man. 

Finally  the  parade  reached  the  City  Hall  and  paused  before  the 
crowded  stand.  The  white  mayor  wasn't  present,  but  a  repre- 
sentative received  coconuts  and  a  bow  from  His  Majesty.  The 
band  played  'Every  Man  a  King,'  Huey  P.  Long's  song,  and  the 
dancing  was  wild.  It  was  King  Zulu's  day. 

The  next  long  stop  was  at  Dryades  and  Poydras  Streets.  A  pro- 
prietor of  a  beer  parlor  at  that  intersection  presented  the  King 
with  a  silver  loving  cup  containing  champagne. 

'Damn,  that's  good,'  said  His  Majesty,  and  smacked  his  lips. 


8  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

A  bevy  of  short-skirted  black  girls  invited  him  down  just  then, 
but  no  dice.  'Ain't  no  funny  crap  today.  Remember  last  year?' 
Last  year  King  Zulu  left  his  float  to  follow  a  woman  and  held  up 
the  parade  for  two  hours.  So  these  girls,  whom  the  boys  call  the 
'zig-a-boos,'  disappointedly  went  their  way. 

Strange  things  happen  even  to  a  king.  It  suddenly  went  down 
the  line,  'The  King  has  done  wet  himself.'  Didn't  make  much 
difference,  though.  He  had  spilled  so  much  whiskey  on  his  cos- 
tume, nobody  could  tell  what  was  what. 

Everybody  was  a  little  drunk  now.  The  grass  hula  skirts  all 
Zulus  wear  over  long  white  drawers  swished  faster  and  faster  as 
the  maskers  on  the  floats  'put  it  on,'  and  the  nappy  black  skull 
caps  adorning  their  heads  were  set  at  dashing  angles.  The  parade 
moved  swifter  now  toward  the  Geddes  and  Moss  Undertaking 
Parlors,  where  the  Queen  and  her  court  awaited  them  on  a  bal- 
cony over  the  street. 

A  thunderous  ovation  greeted  King  Zulu  at  South  Rampart 
and  Erato  Streets.  A  high  yellow  gal  fanned  her  hips  by  him  and 
he  temporarily  deserted  his  float.  'Mayor'  Fisher  hauled  him 
back  to  the  dignity  and  comparative  safety  of  his  high  perch  atop 
the  float.  'I  never  thought  this  could  happen  to  a  king,'  His 
Majesty  sighed.  Pretty  girls  like  that  wouldn't  want  the  King 
when  he  was  '  jest  a  man.' 

'It's  damn  funny,'  Fisher  sniffed,  'how  womens  is.  Now  that 
woman  knows  the  King  is  busy,  still  she  wants  him.  Every  time 
I  think  how  much  trouble  Zulus  give  me  I  get  mad.' 

All  over  South  Rampart  Street  women  were  jumping  up  and 
down  and  feeling  hot  for  the  King.  The  musicians  were  wet  with 
perspiration  and  from  the  showers  that  had  fallen  during  the 
morning,  but  they  kept  beating  out  the  music  and  getting  hotter 
all  the  time. 

After  knocking  out  several  numbers,  the  entire  band  filed  into 
a  saloon  for  drinks,  and  when  they  came  out  everybody  started 
'kicking  'em  up.'  The  dances  grew  more  violent.  Women  low- 
ered their  posteriors  to  the  ground,  shaking  them  wildly  as  they 
rose  and  fell,  rolled  their  stomachs,  vibrated  their  breasts.  A 
crowd  of  Baby  Dolls  came  along,  all  dressed  up  in  tight,  scanty 
trunks,  silk  blouses  and  poke  bonnets  with  ribbons  tied  under 


Kings,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus,  and  Queens  —  p 

dusky  chins.  False  curls  framed  faces  that  were  heavily  pow- 
dered and  rouged  over  black  and  chocolate  skins.  The  costumes 
were  of  every  color  in  the  rainbow  and  some  that  are  not.  They 
joined  the  crowd,  dancing  and  shaking  themselves. 

'  Sure,  they  call  me  Baby  Doll,'  said  one  of  them,  who  was  over 
six  feet  tall  and  weighed  more  than  two  hundred  pounds.  '  That's 
my  name. 

'I'm  a  Baby  Doll  today  and  every  day.  I  bin  a  Baby  Doll  for 
twenty  years.  Since  I  always  dressed  like  a  Baby  Doll  on  Mardi 
Gras  the  other  girls  said  they  would  dress  like  me;  they  would 
wear  tight  skirts  and  bloomers  and  a  rimmed  hat.  They  always 
say  you  get  more  business  on  Mardi  Gras  than  any  other  day, 
so  I  had  a  hard  time  making  them  gals  close  up  and  hit  the 
streets.  See,  mens  have  fun  on  Carnival.  They  come  into  the 
houses  masked  and  want  everything  and  will  do  anything.  They 
say,  "I'm  a  masker,  fix  me  up."  Well,  them  gals  had  a  time  on 
Mardi  Gras,  havin'  their  kicks. 

4  The  way  we  used  to  kick  'em  up  that  day  was  a  damn  shame. 
Some  of  the  gals  didn't  wear  much  clothes  and  used  to  show 
themselves  out  loud.  Fellows  used  to  run  'em  down  with  dollar 
bills  in  their  hands,  and  you  didn't  catch  none  oc  them  gals 
refusing  dollar  bills.  That's  why  all  the  women  back  Perdido 
Street  wanted  to-be  Baby  Dolls. 

'  We  sure  did  shine.  We  used  to  sing,  clap  our  hands,  and  you 
know  what  "raddy"  is?  Well,  that's  the  way  we  used  to  walk 
down  the  street.  People  used  to  say,  "Here  comes  the  babies, 
but  where 's  the  dolls?" 

4  I'm  the  oldest  livin'  Baby  Doll,  and  I'm  one  bitch  who  is  glad 
she  knows  right  from  wrong.  But  I  do  a  lot  of  wrong,  because  I 
figures  wrong  makes  you  as  happy  as  right.  Don't  it? 

'Sure,  I  tried  religion,  but  religion  don't. give  you  no  kicks. 
Just  trouble  and  worry. 

'Say  what  you  like,  it's  my  business.  I'll  tell  anybody  I  sells 
myself  enough  on  Mardi  Gras  to  do  myself  some  good  the  whole 
year  around.  There  ain't  no  sense  in  being  a  Baby  Doll  for  one 
day  only.  Me,  I'm  a. Baby  Doll  all  the  time. 

'Just  follow  a  Baby  Doll  on  Mardi  Gras  and  see  where  you 


io  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

land.  You  know,  if  you  follow  her  once,  you'll  be  following  her 
all  the  time.  That's  the  truth. 

'I  ain't  no  trouble-seeker,  but  I  got  plenty  trouble.  The  other 
day  a  man  come  into  my  house  with  fifty  cents,  but  a  dime  short. 
I  just  picked  up  a  chair  and  busted  it  over  his  head.  That  nigger 
is  always  comin'  in  short.  He  punched  me  in  the  nose,  and  we 
went  to  jail.  The  judge  turned  me  loose,  but  he  says,  "Gal, 
don't  you  come  back  here  no  more."  And  I  says,  "No,  sir, 
Judge."  When  I  stabbed  Uncle  Dick  the  next  day  they  give  me 
three  months.  But  Dago  Tony  got  me  out. 

'I  didn't  want  to  cut  Uncle  Dick,  but  he  kept  messin'  around. 
I  sure  don't  like  nobody  to  mess  around  with  me.  I  just  can't 
stand  it.' 

Baby  Doll  has  been  living  with  Uncle  Dick  for  five  years  now. 
She  beats  him  up  regularly.  She  has  stabbed  him  and  hit  him 
over  the  head  with  rocking  chairs,  bricks,  and  sticks.  Uncle 
Dick  is  a  retired  burglar  and  'switch-blade  wielder';  that  is,  he 
used  a  knife  that  opened  when  he  pressed  a  button  and  he  could 
'  kill  a  man  dead' in  a  split  second.  But  things  got  too  hot.  Now 
it  is  whispered  he  is  a  stool  pigeon  for  the  police  in  the  crime- 
infested  neighborhood  where  he  lives. 

He  depends  on  Baby  Doll,  but  she's  a  tough  number.  Besides 
her  profession,  she  curses  a  blue  streak,  uses  dope,  is  a  stickup 
artist,  smokes  cigars  and  packs  a  Joe  Louis  wallop. 

'Dago  Tony  has  been  around  himself,'  Baby  Doll  went  on. 
'  He  is  all  right.  Me  and  him  done  pulled  plenty  lemons  together. 
He  got  the  peelin'  and  I  got  the  juice.' 

A  '  lemon'  is  a  method  of  extracting  a  man's  bankroll  when  he 
is  busy  with  a  woman. 

'Dago  Tony  got  me  into  a  business  once  that  was  too  hot  to 
keep  up,  but,  man,  was  it  solid!  He'd  give  the  drunks  a  big 
hooker  with  knockout  drops  in  their  glass,  and  when  they 
passed  out  I  was  on  'em.  The  trouble  was  I  had  to  hit  too  many 
of  them  niggers  over  their  heads.  They'd  wake  up  too  quick. 
I  seen  so  much  blood  drippin'  from  people's  heads  I  got  scared 
and  cut  that  stuff  out.  I'll  tell  you,  a  Baby  Doll's  life  ain't  no 
bed  of  roses.' 

Baby  Doll  began  to  think  she  had  talked  too  much.    Other 


Kings,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus,  and  Queens  —  11 

things  began  to  creep  into  her  mind,  too*.  Some  young  black 
men  edging  the  crowd  were  giving  her  the  once-over,  and  busi- 
ness is  business. 

'  You're  holdin*  me  up.  I  got  to  hit  the  streets.  There's  more 
money  for  me  in  the  streets  than  there  is  here.  Maybe  I'm 
missin'  a  few  tricks. '  And  she  was  off  through  the  crowd  around 
the  floats,  walking  'raddy'  to  attract  attention. 

'  I  was  the  first  Baby  Doll,'  Beatrice  Hill  asserted  firmly,  when 
questioned  about  the  history  of  the  organization.  '  Liberty  and 
Perdido  Streets  were  red  hot  back  in  1912.,  when  that  idea 
started.  Women  danced  on  bars  with  green  money  in  their  stock- 
ings, and  sometimes  they  danced  naked.  They  used  to  lie  on  the 
floor  and  shake  their  bellies  while  the  mens  fed  them  candy. 
You  didn't  need  no  system  to  work  uptown.  It  wasn't  like  the 
downtown  red-light  district,  where  they  made  more  money,  but 
paid  more  graft.  You  had  to  put  on  the  ritz  downtown,  which 
some  of  the  gals  didn't  like.  You  did  what  you  wanted  uptown. ' 

Uptown  prostitutes  got  high  on  marijuana  and  'snow.'  They 
still  do.  Beatrice  is  fifty-two  and  is  about  beat  out  now.  Her 
arms  and  legs  are  thickly  spotted  with  black  needle  holes.  She 
still  uses  drugs,  and  admits  it.  Also,  she  goes  to  Charity  Hos- 
pital and  takes  treatment  for  syphilis.  Back  in  1912.  she  made 
fifty  to  seventy-five  dollars  a  day  hustling  and  stealing.  Her 
man,  Jelly  Beans,  got  most  of  it,  and  they  blew  the  rest  'gettin' 
their  kicks.'  Beatrice  is  all  bad  and  proud  of  it.  She's  been  to 
jail  for  murder,  shooting,  stealing,  and  prostitution.  She  boasts 
of  her  hectic  past  with  gusto  and  vanity. 

'Them  downtown  bitches  thought  their  behinds  was  solid 
silver,'  she  recalls  contemptuously,  'but  they  didn't  never  have 
any  more  money  than  we  did.  We  was  just  as  good  lookers  and 
had  just  as  much  money.  Me,  I  was  workin'  right  there  on 
Gravier  and  Franklin  Streets. 

'We  gals  around  my  house  got  along  fine.  Them  downtown 
gals  tried  to  get  the  police  to  go  up  on  our  graft,  but  they 
wouldn't  do  it.  Does  you  remember  Clara  Clay,  who  had  all 
them  houses  downtown?  Well,  we  was  makin'  good  money  and 
used  to  buy  up  some  fun.  All  of  us  uptown  had  nothin'  but 
good-lookin'  men.  We  used  to  send  them  downtown  'round 


iz  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

them  whores  and  make  'em  get  all  their  money  until  they  found 
out  and  had  'em  beat  up.  Then  we  stopped.  I'm  tellin'  you  that 
was  a  war  worse 'n  the  Civil  War.  All  the  time  we  was  tryin'  to 
outdo  them  downtown  gals. 

'I  knew  a  lady,  name  was  Peggy  Bry;  she  used  to  live  at 
2.31  Basin  Street.  Well,  anyhow,  Miss  Bry  gave  a  ball  for  the 
nigger  bitches  in  the  downtown  district  at  the  Entertainers' 
Cafe,  and  she  said  she  didn't  want  no  uptown  whore  there.  All 
them  gals  was  dressed  to  kill  in  silks  and  satins  and  they  had  all 
their  mens  dressed  up,  too.  That  was  goin'  to  be  some  ball.  We 
heared  about  it  long  before.  So,  we  figures  and  figures  how  we 
could  go  and  show  them  whores  up  with  our  frocks.  I  told  all 
my  friends  to  get  their  clothes  ready  and  to  dress  up  their  mens, 
'cause  we  was  goin'  to  that  ball. 

'Everybody  got  to  gettin'  ready,  buyin'  up  some  clothes.  Sam 
Bonart  was  askin'  the  mens  what  was  the  matter  and  Canal 
Street  was  lookin'  up  at  us  niggers  like  we  was  the  moon.  We 
was  ready,  I'm  tellin'  you.  I  figures  and  figures.  So,  I  figures 
what  we  would  do.  I  got  hold  of  a  captain,  the  baddest  dick  on 
the  force,  and  I  tells  him  what  was  what.  I  tells  him  a  white 
whore  is  givin'  a  ball  for  niggers  and  didn't  want  us  to  come. 
He  says,  "  Is  it  a  public  hall?"  And  I  says  it  is.  He  tells  us  to  get 
ready  to  do  our  stuff  and  go  to  that  ball.  You  see,  the  Captain 
knows  we  is  in  a  war  with  them  downtown  bitches.  Me,  I 
figures  he  was  kiddin',  so  I  went  to  him  and  told  him  if  he'd  come 
downtown  with  us  I'd  give  him  a  hundred  dollars.  He  says,  sure 
he  would. 

'  Child,  we  got  the  news  around  for  the  gals  to  get  ready.  And 
was  they  ready!  Is  the  sun  shinin'?  It  was  a  Monday  night  and 
Louie  Armstrong  and  his  Hot  Five  and  Buddy  Petit  was  gonna 
be  playin'  at  that  ball.  We  called  up  Geddes  and  Moss  and  hired 
black  limousines.  You  know  them  whores  was  livin'  their 
lives!  All  the  houses  was  shut  down,  and  the  Captain  was  out 
there  in  front.  I'm  tellin'  you  when  that  uptown  brigade  rode 
up  to  the  Entertainers'  Cafe,  all  the  bitches  came  runnin'  out. 
Then  they  saw  the  Captain  and  they  all  started  runnin'  back 
inside.  We  just  strutted  up  and  filed  in  and  filled  the  joint.  I'm 
tellin'  you,  that  was  somethin' ! 


Kings,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus,  and  Queens  —  13 

'  The  first  thing  I  did  was  to  order  one  hundred  and  four  dol- 
lars' worth  of  champagne,  and  the  house  couldn't  fill  the  order. 
The  bartender  said,  "You  got  me."  I  took  all  the  place  had, 
and  the  band  starts  playin'  "Shake  That  Thing,"  and  dedicates 
it  to  me.  This  white  bitch,  Miss  Bry,  comes  runnin'  up  to  me 
and  says,  "Look  here,  this  is  my  party  for  my  friends."  I  says: 
"Miss  Bry,  I'm  the  one  showed  you  how  to  put  silk  teddies  on 
your  tail.  Who  is  you?  What's  your  racket?"  Then  the  Captain 
walks  up,  lookin'  hard,  and  he  says:  "Miss  Bry,  you  ain't  got 
no  right  in  this  public  dance.  If  you  don't  shut  your  trap,  I'll 
pull  you  in."  Man,  would  you  keep  quiet?  Well,  that's  what 
she  did. 

'One  of  my  gals  —  I  think  it  was  Julia  Ford  —  got  up  on  a 
table  and  started  shakin'  it  on  down.  We  took  off  all  her 
clothes,  and  the  owner  of  the  place  started  chargin'  admission 
to  come  in  to  the  dance.  Miss  Bry  raised  particular  hell  about 
this,  then  went  on  home.  We  broke  up  that  joint  for  true.  The 
Entertainers  ain't  never  seen  a  party  like  that  one. 

' Let  me  tell  you,  and  this  ain't  no  lie:  Every  girl  with  me  had 
no  less  than  one  hundred  dollars  on  her.  We  called  that  the 
hundred-dollar  party.  Say,  niggers  was  under  the  tables  tryin' 
to  find  the  money  we  was  wastin'  on  the  floor.  I  remembers  one 
nigger  trying  to  tear  my  stockings  open  to  get  at  my  money  till 
my  man  hit  him  over  his  head  with  a  chair,  and  that  nigger  went 
to  the  hospital.  'Course  it  all  ended  in  a  big  fight  and  we  all 
went  to  jail. 

'It  wasn't  long  after  that  when  a  downtown  gal  named  Susie 
Brown  come  to  see  me.  She  says  she  wants  to  work  uptown,  so 
we  give  her  a  chance.  She  got  to  makin'  money,  and  soon  she 
was  called  the  best-dressed  gal  in  Gravier  Street.  I  didn't  mind, 
me.  She  was  workin'  in  my  house,  and  her  bed  percentage  was 
fine.  I  done  seen  time  when  I  made  fifty  dollars  in  a  day  just 
waitin'  for  Susie  to  get  done  turnin'  tricks. 

'Shux,  that  wasn't  nothing.  When  them  ships  come  in,  that's 
when  I  made  money.  All  them  sailors  wanted  a  brownie.  High 
yellows  fared  poorly  then,  unless  they  got  in  them  freakish 
shows.  When  I  took  in  fifty  dollars  in  them  days  it  was  a  bad 
day.  I  was  rentin'  rooms,  payin'  me  a  dollar  every  time  a  gal 


14  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

turned  a  trick.    Then  I  had  two  gals  stealin'  for  me,  and  I  was 
turnin'  tricks  myself. 

4  Lights  was  low  around  my  house  and  some  awful  things  was 
done  right  in  the  streets.  The  police?  Shux,  does  you  know  what 
we  was  payin'  the  law?  Every  gal  paid  three  bucks  a  day  and  the 
landlady  paid  three  and  a  half,  but  we  didn't  mind  at  all,  'cause 
we  made  that  with  a  smile. 

'Everywhere  we  went  like  the  Silver  Platter,  the  Elite,  the 
Black  and  Tan  and  so  on,  people  used  to  say,  "Look  at  them 
whores!"  We  was  always  dressed  down  and  carried  our  money 
in  our  stockings.  See  like  around  Mardi  Gras  Day?  We  used  to 
break  up  the  Zulu  Ball  with  money,  used  to  buy  the  King  cham- 
pagne by  the  case.  That's  another  thing,  we  had  the  Zulus  with 
us.  Shux,  we  took  Mardi  Gras  by  storm.  No,  we  wasn't  the 
Baby  Dolls  then;  I'm  talkin'  about  before  that. 

'In  1911,  Ida  Jackson,  Millie  Barnes  and  Sallie  Gail  and  a  few 
other  gals  downtown  was  makin'  up  to  mask  on  Mardi  Gras 
Day.  No,  I  don't  know  how  they  was  goin'  to  mask,  but  they 
was  goin'  to  mask.  We  was  all  sittin'  around  about  three  o'clock 
in  the  morning  in  my  house.  A  gal  named  Althea  Brown  jumps 
up  and  she  says,  "Let's  be  ourselves.  Let's  be  Baby  Dolls. 
That's  what  the  pimps  always  calls  us."  We  started  comin'  up 
with  the  money,  but  Leola  says:  "Hold  your  horses.  Let  every 
tub  stand  on  its  own  bottom."  That  suited  everybody  fine  and 
the  tubs  stood. 

'Everybody  agreed  to  have  fifty  dollars  in  her  stocking,  and 
that  we  could  see  who  had  the  most  money.  Somebody  says, 
"What's  the  name  of  this  here  organization?"  And  we  decided 
to  call  ourselves  the  Million-Dollar  Baby  Dolls,  and  be  red  hot. 
Johnny  Metoyer  wanted  us  to  come  along  with  the  Zulus,  but 
we  said  nothin'  doin'.  We  told  Johnny  we  was  out  to  get  some 
fun  in  our  own  way  and  we  was  not  stoppin'  at  nothin'. 

'  Some  of  us  made  our  dresses  and  some  had  'em  made.  We  was 
all  lookin'  sharp.  There  was  thirty  of  us  —  the  best  whores  in 
town.  We  was  all  good-lookin'  and  had  our  stuff  with  us.  Man, 
I'm  tellin'  you,  we  had  money  all  over  us,  even  in  our  bloomers, 
and  they  didn't  have  no  zippers. 

'And  that  Mardi  Gras  Day  came  and  we  hit  the  streets.    I'm 


Kings,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus,  and  Queens  —  // 

tellin'  you,  we  hit  the  streets  lookin'  forty,  fine  and  mellow.   We 
got  out  'bout  ten  o'clock.   We  had  stacks  of  dollars  in  our  stock- 
ings and  in  our  hands.    We  went  to  the  Sam  Bonart  playground 
on  Rampart  and  Poydras  and  bucked  against  each  other  to  see 
who  had  the  most  money.    Leola  had  the  most  —  she  had  one 
hundred  and  two  dollars.    I  had  ninety-six  dollars  and  I  was 
second,  but  I  had  more  home  in  case  I  ran  out.    There  wasn't 
a  woman  in  the  bunch  who  had  less  than  fifty  dollars.    We  had 
all  the  niggers  from  everywhere  followin'  us.    They  liked  the 
way  we  shook  our  behinds  and  we  shook  'em  like  we  wanted  to. 
'Know  what?  We  went  on  downtown,  and  talk  about  puttin' 
on  the  ritz !  We  showed  them  whores  how  to  put  it  on.   Boy,  we 
was  smokin'   cigars  and  flingin'   ten-  and  twenty-dollar  bills 
through  the  air.   Sho,  we  used  to  sing,  and  boy,  did  we  shake  it 
on  down.    We  sang  "When  the  Sun  Goes  Down"  and  "When 
the  Saints  Come  Marchin'  Through  I  Want  to  Be  in  That  Num- 
ber."   We  wore  them  wide  hats,  but  they  was  seldom  worn, 
'cause  when  we  got  to  heatin'  we  pulled  'em  off.    When  them 
Baby  Dolls  strutted,  they  strutted.    We  showed  our  linen  that 
day,  I'm  tellin'  you. 

'  When  we  hit  downtown  all  them  gals  had  to  admit  we  was 
stuff.  Man,  when  we  started  pitchin'  dollars  around,  we  had 
their  mens  fallin'  on  their  faces  tryin'  to  get  that  money.  And 
there  you  have  the  startin'  of  the  Baby  Dolls.  Yeah,  peace  was 
made.  All  them  gals  got  together.' 

The  parade  was  about  ready  to  get  started  again  now.  The 
King  heaved  a  slow  curve  at  the  proprietor  of  the  saloon  and  the 
coconut  fell  right  smack  on  his  head.  Everybody  laughed  ex- 
cept '  Mayor'  Fisher.  It  was  an  indication  that  His  Majesty  was 
drunk. 

1  When  the  time  comes,'  moaned  Fisher,  rolling  white  eyeballs 
around  in  a  fat,  black  face,  '  that  I  can  stop  worryin'  about  that 
King  and  everybody  else,  I'm  goin'  to  feel  heaps  better.  It's  time 
to  cut  out  this  foolishment,  anyway.  We  is  on  our  way  to  meet 
the  Queen/ 

The  band  began  swinging  it  faster,  and  the  Zulus'  hot  feet  beat 
faster,  too.  Everybody  was  feeling  fine.  King  Manuel  stretched 
out  his  arms  congenially,  and  kept  laughing  out  loud,  though 


i  6  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

his  head  was  low,  and  the  pavement  looked  about  to  jump  right 
up  and  slap  him  in  the  face. 

It  was  about  one-thirty  when  they  reached  the  small  building, 
where  thousands  waited  to  see  the  Queen  greet  her  lord. 

The  King  posed  for  cameramen,  and  bowed  to  everybody  gra- 
ciously. He  leaned  over  and  accepted  flowers  and  a  ribbon  key  of 
welcome  from  Doctor  W.  A.  Willis,  whose  wife  sponsors  this  use 
of  the  funeral  parlors  every  year. 

Gertrude  Geddes  Willis  made  an  address:  'My  powerful  mon- 
arch, it  is  a  pleasure  to  welcome  you  to  Geddes  and  Moss  Under- 
takers. May  your  every  wish  be  granted  for  your  subjects  and 
yourself,  and  may  you  live  forever  in  the  splendor  that  fits  a 
king.'  She  handed  His  Majesty  a  bottle  of  champagne,  ordered 
the  waiters  to  bring  more  for  the  rest  of  the  Zulus. 

Then  there  was  an  awed  hush  as  a  maid  led  the  Queen  out  upon 
the  platform,  and  sighs  passed  through  the  dusky  crowd  that 
were  a  tribute  to  her  beauty.  There  were  gasps  when  it  could  be 
clearly  seen  that  she  wore  an  expensive-looking  white  satin 
gown,  lavishly  trimmed  in  lace,  a  multi-colored  train  of  metallic 
cloth,  a  rhinestone  crown,  and  carried  accessories  to  match. 
'The  white  lady  I  used  to  work  for  gave  me  all  my  accessories.' 
Queen  Zulu  revealed  later.  'She  took  me  downtown,  and  she 
said:  "Ceola,  I  want  to  fix  you  up  right.  I  want  you  to  be  a 
damn  good  queen."  Those  were  her  exact  words.' 

King  Manuel  toasted  his  Queen  in  champagne,  as  his  float 
remained  beneath  the  balcony,  and  she  sipped  some,  too,  -smiling 
down  on  her  admiring  subjects  in  the  street  below. 

The  ceremonies  over,  the  court  went  inside  for  more  refresh- 
ments. No  one  was  permitted  to  follow  them  upstairs  to  their 
private  quarters,  where  liquor  of  all  kinds  was  consumed  and  a 
thousand  fancy  sandwiches  enjoyed. 

The  Queen  was  left  to  have  her  fun,  too,  and  she  usually  does 
very  well.  In  fact,  there's  always  a  certain  amount  of  worry 
about  letting  a  queen  wander  about  during  the  hours  between 
the  reception  and  the  ball  to  come  later  in  the  evening.  It  has 
been  suggested  that  she  be  locked  up  during  that  time,  but  the 
queens  have  always  objected  strongly  to  that  proposed  measure. 

The  Zulus'  parade  was  over  now,  but  there  was  always  plenty 


Kings,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus,  and  Queens  -  ij 

going  on  around  town.  Things  were  really  just  getting  warmed 
up. 

Suddenly,  this  Mardi  Gras  afternoon,  there  appeared  on  a 
street  corner  a  lone  figure  of  an  elaborately  garbed  Indian.  He 
stood  there,  a  lighted  lantern  in  one  hand,  the  other  shading  his 
eyes,  as  he  peered  into  the  street  ahead,  first  right,  then  left. 
This  Indian's  face  was  very  black  under  his  war  paint,  but  his 
costume  and  feathered  headdress  were  startlingly  colorful.  He 
studied  the  distance  a  moment,  then  turned  and  swung  the  lan- 
tern. Other  Indians  appeared,  all  attired  in  costumes  at  least  as 
magnificent  as  the  first,  and  in  every  conceivable  color. 

A  second  Indian  joined  the  first,  then  a  third.  These  three  all 
carried  lanterns  like  good  spy  boys  must.  Then  a  runner  joined 
them,  a  flag  boy,  a  trio  of  chiefs,  a  savage-looking  medicine  man. 
Beside  the  first  or  head  chief  was  a  stout  woman,  wearing  a  cos- 
tume of  gold  and  scarlet.  She  was  the  tribe's  queen,  and  wife  of 
the  first  chief. 

A  consultation  was  held  there  on  the  corner.  The  chiefs  got 
together,  passed  around  a  bottle,  and  argued  with  the  medicine 
man  until  that  wild  creature,  dressed  in  animal  skins  and  a  grass 
skirt,  wearing  a  headdress  of  horns  and  a  huge  ring  in  his  nose, 
jumped  up  and  down  on  the  pavement  with  rage.  When,  at  last, 
it  was  decided  that  since  there  was  no  enemy  tribe  in  sight,  they 
might  as  well  have  a  war  dance,  Chief  '  Happy  Peanut,'  head  of 
this  tribe  of  the  Golden  Blades,  emitted  a  bloodcurdling  yell  that 
resounded  for  blocks,  'Oowa-a-awa!  Ooa-a-a-awa!' 

Tambourines  were  raised  and  a  steady  tattoo  of  rhythm  beat 
out.  Knees  went  down  and  up,  heads  swayed  back  and  forth, 
feet  shuffled  on  the  pavement,  as  they  circled  round  and  round. 

The  Queen  chanted  this  song: 

The  Indians  are  comin'. 
Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 
The  Indians  are  comin'. 
Tu- way-pa-k  a- way . 
The  Chief  is  comin'. 
Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 
The  Chief  is  comin'. 
Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 


/<?  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

The  Queen  is  comin*. 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 

The  Queen  is  comin'. 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 

The  Golden  Blades  are  comin'. 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way . 

The  Golden  Blades  are  comin'. 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way.  . . . 

The  songs  the  Mardi  Gras  Indians  sing  are  written  in  choppy 
four-fourths  time,  with  a  tom-tom  rhythm.  The  music  is  far 
removed  from  the  type  usually  associated  with  Negroes.  The 
Indians  never  sing  a  blues  song,  but  chant  with  primitive  and 
savage  simplicity  to  this  strange  beat,  which  has  an  almost  hyp- 
notic effect.  The  beating  on  the  tambourine  and  rhythmic  hand- 
clapping  are  the  only  accompaniments  to  the  singing.  Most  of 
the  words  have  little  meaning,  though  some  display  special 
interests  of  the  tribe,  such  as 

Tu-way-pa-k  a- way . 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 

Get  out  the  dishes. 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 

Get  out  the  pan. 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 

Here  comes  the  Indian  man. 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way, 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way . 

Sometimes  the  chief  of  the  tribe  sings  alone  a  boastful  solo  of 
his  strength  and  prowess. 

Oowa-aa ! 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 

Oowa-a-a ! 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 

I'm  the  Big  Chief! 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 

Of  the  strong  Golden  Blades. 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 


Kings,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus,  and  Queens  —  ip 

The  dances  are  wild  and  abandoned.  Unlike  the  songs,  there 
may  be  detected  traces  of  modernity,  trucking  and  bucking  and 
'messing-around'  combined  with  pseudo-Indian  touches,  much 
leaping  into  the  air,  accompanied  by  virile  whooping.  All  this 
is  considerably  aided  by  the  whiskey  consumed  while  on  the 
march,  and  the  frequent  smoking  of  marijuana. 

The  tribes  include  such  names  as  the  Little  Red,  White  and 
Blues,  the  Yellow  Pocahontas,  the  Wild  Squa-tou-las,  the 
Golden  Eagles,  the  Creole  Wild  Wests,  the  Red  Frontier  Hunters, 
and  the  Golden  Blades.  The  last  numbers  twenty-two  members, 
and  is  the  largest  and  oldest  of  those  still  extant. 

The  Golden  Blades  were  started  twenty-five  years  ago  in  a 
saloon.  Ben  Clark  was  the  first  chief  and  ruled  until  two  years 
ago,  when  a  younger  man  took  over.  Leon  Robinson  —  Chief 
'Happy  Peanut'  --deposed  Clark  in  actual  combat,  as  is  the 
custom,  ripping  open  Clark's  arm  and  gashing  his  forehead  with 
a  knife.  That's  the  way  a  chief  is  created,  and  that  is  the  way  his 
position  is  lost. 

Contrary  to  the  casual  observer's  belief,  these  strangest  of 
Mardi  Gras  maskers  are  extremely  well-organized  groups,  whose 
operations  are  intricate  and  complicated. 

Monthly  meetings  are  held,  dues  paid  and  the  next  year's  pro- 
cedure carefully  planned.  All  members  are  individually  respon- 
sible for  their  costumes.  They  may  m#ke  them  —  most  of  them 
do  —  or  have  them  made  to  order. 

The  regalia  consists  of  a  large  and  resplendent  crown  of 
feathers,  a  wig,  an  apron,  a  jacket,  a  shirt,  tights,  trousers  and 
moccasins.  They  vie  with  each  other  and  with  other  tribes  as  to 
richness  and  elaborateness.  Materials  used  include  satins,  velvet, 
silver  and  gold  lame  and  various  furs.  The  trimmings  are  sequins, 
crystal;  colored  and  pearl  beads,  sparkling  imitation  jewels, 
rhinestones,  spangles  and  gold  clips  put  to  extravagant  use. 
Color  is  used  without  restraint.  (Flame,  scarlet  and  orange  are 
possibly  the  preferred  shades.) 

Amazingly  intricate  designs  are  often  worked  out  in  beads  and 
brilliants  against  the  rich  materials.  A  huge  serpent  of  pearls 
may  writhe  on  a  gold  lame  breast,  an  immense  spider  of  silver 
beads  appears  to  be  crawling  on  a  back  of  flame  satin.  Sometimes 


20  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

a  chief  will  choose  to  appear  in  pure  white.  A  regal  crown  of 
snowy  feathers,  rising  from  a  base  of  crystal  beads,  will  adorn 
his  head,  and  all  other  parts  of  his  costume  will  be  of  white 
velvet  heavily  encrusted  with  rhinestones  and  crystals.  All 
costumes  are  worn  with  the  arrogance  expressed  in  such  songs  as 

Oh,  the  Little  Red,  White  and  Blues, 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way, 

Bravest  Indians  in  the  land. 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 

They  are  on  the  march  today. 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 

If  you  should  get  in  their  way, 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way, 

Be  prepared  to  die. 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 

Oowa-a-a ! 

Oowa-a-a ! 

Ten  years  ago  the  various  tribes  actually  fought  when  they 
met.  Sometimes  combatants  were  seriously  injured.  When  two 
tribes  sighted  each  other,  they  would  immediately  go  into  battle 
formation,  headed  by  the  first,  second  and  third  spy  boys  of  each 
side.  Then  the  two  head  chiefs  would  cast  their  spears  —  iron 
rods  —  into  the  ground,  the  first  to  do  so  crying,  'Umba?', 
which  was  an  inquiry  if  the  other  were  willing  to  surrender.  The 
second  chief  replied,  'Me  no  umba!'  There  was  never  a  sur- 
render, never  a  retreat.  There  would  follow  a  series  of  dances  by 
the  two  chiefs,  each  around  his  spear,  with  pauses  now  and  then 
to  fling  back  and  forth  the  exclamations,  'Umba?'  'Me  no 
umba!'  While  this  continued,  sometimes  for  four  or  five  min- 
utes, the  tribes  stood  expectantly  poised,  waiting  for  the  inev- 
itable break  that  would  be  an  invitation  for  a  free-for-all  melee. 
Once  a  police  officer  was  badly  injured  by  an  Indian's  spear. 
After  that  occurrence  a  law  was  passed  forbidding  the  tribes  of 
maskers  to  carry  weapons. 

Today  the  tribes  are  all  friendly.  The  following  song  is  a 
warning  against  the  tactics  of  other  days. 

Shootin'  don't  make  it,  no  no  no  no. 
Shootin'  don't  make  it,  no  no  no  no. 


Kings,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus,  and  Queens  — 21 

Shootin'  don't  make  it,  no  no  no  no. 
If  you  see  your  man  sittin'  in  the  bush, 
Knock  him  in  the  head  and  give  him  a  push, 
'Cause  shootin'  don't  make  it,  no  no. 
Shootin'  don't  make  it,  no  no  no  no. 


The  Golden  Blades  marched  all  day  through  main  thorough- 
fares and  narrow  side  streets.  At  the  train  tracks  and  Broadway 
came  the  news  the  spy  boys  had  sighted  the  Little  Red,  White 
and  Blues. 

The  tribes  met  on  either  side  of  a  vacant  space  of  ground,  and 
with  a  whoop  and  loud  cries. 

'Me,  Chief  "Happy  Peanut."    My  tribe  Golden  Blades.' 
The  other  replied:  'Me,  Chief  Battle  Brown.    My  tribe  Little 
Red,  White  and  Blues.' 

Palms  still  extended,  they  spoke  as  one,  'Peace.' 
Then  they  met,  put  arms  around  each  other's  necks.   Together 
they  proceeded  toward  the  nearest  saloon,  the  two  tribes  behind 
them  mingling  and  talking,  the  medicine  men  chanting  a  weird 
duet: 

Shh-bam-hang  the  ham. 
Follow  me,  follow  me,  follow  me. 
Wha-wha-wha-follow  me. 
Wha-wha-wha-follow  me. 
Shh-bam-hang  the  ham. 
Wha-wha-wha-follow  me. 
Wha-wha-wha-follow  me 

At  the  bar,  the  chiefs  gulped  jiggers  of  whiskey,  then  small 
beers  as  chasers.  Members  of  both  tribes  crowded  about  and 
imbibed  freely. 

When  decision  was  made  to  depart,  each  tribe  filed  out  a  dif- 
ferent door,  tambourines  beating. 

In  the  street  Chief  '  Happy  Peanut's'  wife  revealed  to  her  hus- 
band that  she  didn't  think  Chief  Battle  Brown's  mate  was  any- 
thing to  brag  about.  'Shux!'  she  sneered  disgustedly.  'She 
didn't  look  so  hot  to  me.  She  don't  have  no  life  in  her.  Man, 
she's  gotta 


22  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Have  it  like  I  like  it! 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 

Use  it  like  I  use  it! 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 

Do  it  like  I  do  it! 

Tu-way-pa-ka-way. 

Like  a  good  queen  should. 

Ee-e-e-e!' 

The  Queen,  finishing  her  song,  went  into  her  dance.  With  hands 
lifted  above  her  head,  her  fingers  snapping  to  keep  time,  with 
tongue  darting  in  a  serpentlike  movement  in  and  out  of  her 
mouth  and  hips  and  stomach  undulating,  Queen  'Happy  Pea- 
nut' executed  an  extremely  unorthodox  Indian  dance.  There  was 
to  be  no  doubt  left  in  the  minds  of  onlookers  that  she  was  red  hot 
and  full  of  life. 

Suddenly  the  medicine  man  began  hopping  around  and  moan- 
ing over  a  figure  lying  prostrate  on  the  ground.  Utter  astonish- 
ment caused  the  Queen  to  interrupt  her  dance  when  the  identity 
of  the  form  was  announced.  It  was  her  spy  girl,  who  had  wan- 
dered slightly  ahead  of  the  others. 

'What's  the  matter,  she  can't  take  it?'  taunted  a  bystander. 

Upon  him  the  medicine  man  turned  the  full  venom  of  his 
wrath, '  Umm-m-m-n !  A-a-a-a-ah !'  He  made  a  sign,  as  if  casting  a 
spell  over  the  tormentor,  to  the  amusement  of  the  gathering 
crowd. 

The  Queen  briefly  glanced  at  the  girl. 

'She  didn't  eat  no  breakfast  this  morning,'  she  explained. 
'She'll  be  all  right.  We  is  gonna  eat  at  the  next  stop.' 

Upon  reaching  South  Claiborne  Avenue,  the  spy  boy  ran  back 
to  the  flag  boy,  the  flag  boy  whispered  to  the  wild  man,  who  sent 
a  runner  scampering  back  to  the  chief.  The  Creole  Wild  West 
Indians  were  coming! 

The  Creole  Wild  Wests  were  already  in  a  place,  eating  and 
drinking,  when  the  Golden  Blades  caught  up  with  them.  The 
two  tribes  greeted  each  other  in  high  spirits,  with  much  shouting 
and  laughter,  all  but  Chief  Brother  Tillman. 

He  leaned  against  the  bar,  his  eyes,  from  which  the  power  of 
vision  was  fast  fading,  troubled  and  brooding,  his  mind  sad  with 


'f 


The  "Baby  Doll"  appears  on  Mardi  Gras  and  again  on  St.  Joseph's  night 


„  m 


A  group  of  "Baby  Dolls" 


Queen  (second  from  right)  and  Maids  of  Honor  at  the  Zulu  Ball 


mm 


*<  • 

Tt 


King  Zulu,  the  Negro  monarch  of  Mardi  Gras 


• 


j, 


On  Mardi  Gras  it  is  traditional  for  Negroes  to  dress  as  Indians;  they  have  done 

so  for  nearly  a  century 


Kings,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus,  and  Queens  —  25 

the  realization  that  this  was  probably  the  last  time  he  would  be 
able  to  take  part  in  this  Mardi  Gras  tradition .  As  far  back  as  any 
Indian  can  remember  there  has' always  been  a  Brother  Tillman. 

'They  didn't  want  me  to  go  out  this  year,'  he  said.  'They 
thought  I  couldn't  see  well  enough.  Well,  we'll  see  who  can  see. 
This  is  my  only  pleasure.  Oh,  yes,  I  drink,  but  I  don't  drink  for 
fun.  I  drink  to  hide  the  truth.  Can  you  understand  that?  How 
about  a  drink?  And  let's  have  some  music!  Come  on,  Peanut. 
What's  this,  anyway?  A  funeral?' 

But  as  soon  as  the  dancing  started,  he  was  talking  again.  'It's 
just  that  I've  seen  so  much  of  this.  It's  been  my  life.  And  to 
think  I  might  not  see  it  again.  My  sight  isn't  good  now,  you 
know,  but  I  wouldn't  let  them  know  it  because  I  might  make 
another  year.  But  let's  cheer  up!  Have  another  drink?' 

When  the  time  came  to  leave,  Brother  Tillman  rose  and  led  his 
band  of  Wild  Creoles  from  the  saloon,  walking  with  erect  dig- 
nity, his  chin  high.  Though  his  costume  was  simple  for  a  chief 
-  plain  buckskin  trimmed  with  a  black  fringe,  a  crown  of  jet 
feathers  on  his  head  —  he  bore  himself  with  unaffected  but 
proud  nobility. 

Onward  traveled  the  Golden  Blades,  chanting  their  strange 
songs,  pausing  to  dance  wildly,  their  tambourines  relentlessly 
throbbing  the  monotonous  rhythm.  Drinking,  eating,  righting, 
loving,  forgetting  yesterday  and  tomorrow. 

Laughing  and  singing  one  moment,  imbued  with  genuine  sav- 
agery the  next,  the  Indians  are  still  feared  by  many  Orleanians, 
who  will  go  to  great  lengths  to  avoid  a  tribe  coming  in  their 
direction.  It  is  almost  as  if  those  dock  laborers  and  office- 
building  porters  have  reverted  for  a  day  to  the  jungles  of  their 
ancestors. 

Here  and  there  the  Golden  Blades  met  other  tribes,  the  Golden 
Eagles,  the  Yellow  Pocahontas,  the  Red  Frontier  Hunters.  They 
forced  their  way  into  packed  bars  and  out  again,  laughing, 
cursing. 

There  were  few  mishaps,  but  a  member  or  two  strayed  and 
vanished  for  the  day.  One  daring  'brave'  leaped  aboard  a  truck 
filled  with  white  maskers,  who  threw  confetti  on  his  crown  and 
taunted  him  by  derisively  singing  the  famous  old  Creole  cry, 


24  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

M.ardi  Gras,  Mardi  Gras, 

Chou-a-la-paillet  Chew  the  straw, 

Run  away,  Run  away 

Taille  la  V sill  And  tell  a  lie! 

The  day's  marching  ended  just  after  nightfall  outside  of  the 
Japanese  Tea  Garden  on  St.  Philip  and  North  Liberty  Streets. 

Tired  but  still  happy  maskers  gathered  here.  This  is  the  Mecca 
of  all  Negroes  on  Mardi  Gras  Night,  for  here  the  Zulu  Ball,  the 
grand  climax  of  the  day,  takes  place.  The  Indians'  eyes  are 
weary  now,  and  their  feet  tired,  but  they  never  allow  themselves 
to  relax.  They  keep  imbibing  all  the  liquor  they  can  get  their 
hands  on,  keep  their  songs  and  dances  going.  A  Baby  Doll  or 
two  straggles  past,  mingling  with  the  crowd.  A  Baby  Doll  has 
to  keep  busy  all  the  time.  At  last,  from  within  the  Tea  Gardens, 
come  the  strains  of  the  Grand  March  as  the  Zulu  Ball  begins. 

Inside  the  ceiling  is  decorated  with  colored  paper,  bright  new 
lanterns  shed  vari-colored  lights,  palm  leaves  and  coconuts  con- 
tribute a  tropical  atmosphere,  fresh  sawdust  is  sprinkled  on  the 
floor  and  the  six-piece  orchestra  is  feeling  extra  hot. 

The  King  and  Queen  lead  the  Grand  March,  and  the  band 
swings  out  with  a  torrid  selection.  No  staid  monarch  is  King 
Zulu.  He  leaves  that  for  the  white  balls,  where  the  kings  must 
remain  on  their  thrones  most  of  the  evening.  King  Zulu  is  out 
there  trucking  on  down  and  giving  the  women  a  break.  He's 
really  head  man,  and  before  the  night  is  over  he's  likely  to  feel 
like  a  super-Casanova,  so  many  are  the  invitations  whispered 
into  his  ear.  Sometimes  he  makes  a  premature  exit,  one  particu- 
larly fascinating  damsel  having  proved  too  much  for  his  will 
power.  Two  years  ago,  when  King  Zulu  departed,  so  did  most 
of  the  champagne  and  cake.  After  two  hours  Johnny  Metoyer, 
then  ruling  Zululand  with  an  iron  hand,  phoned  his  house. 

'He  ain't  here,'  his  wife  informed  Johnny,  with  vengeance. 
'I'm  looking  for  him,  too.' 

Then  Johnny  did  some  thinking  and  he  did  some  swearing.  He 
and  Charlie  Fisher  telephoned  every  saloon  in  town  and  visited  a 
lot  of  them.  At  last  His  Majesty  was  located.  He  was  in  a  beer 
parlor  with  four  high  yellow  women,  nine  quarts  of  champagne 
and  having  the  time  of  his  life.  The  King  was  having  a  ball  all 
by  himself. 


Kings,  Baby  Dolls,  Zulus,  and  Queens  —  2 / 

'Niggers  like  you,'  was  Royalty's  retort  to  the  bawling  out 
administered  by  Metoyer  and  Fisher,  'ain't  supposed  to  get 
nothing.' 

The  Queen  does  all  right  at  the  Zulu  Ball,  too.  If  a  girl  can't 
establish  herself  solid  after  this  day  and  night,  there  is  some- 
thing radically  wrong.  She  can  sort  out  her  propositions  and 
pick  one  or  a  dozen  of  the  best. 

This  Zulu  Ball  is  the  end  of  it.  But  it  has  been  swell,  all  the 
maskers  tell  each  other.  The  best  year  yet,  they  always  agree. 
Zulus,  Indians  and  Baby  Dolls  creep  home  jn  the  small  hours  of 
the  morning,  fall  into  bed  and  sleep  most  of  the  next  day.  There 
are  few  New  Orleans  Negroes  at  work  or  on  the  streets  the  day 
after  the  Carnival. 

But  that  night  they  begin  to  straggle  into  the  various  bars 
along  Gravier  and  Poydras  Streets.  There  is  the  usual  blare  of 
music  boxes,  hot  dancing,  arguments  and  'corner  loving.' 
Liquor  again  pours  down  parched  throats.  It  isn't  quite  as  excit- 
ing as  Mardi  Gras,  but  it  isn't  dull.  There  is  never  a  dull  night 
in  the  streets  where  the  Zulus  and  the  Indians  and  the  Baby  Dolls 
live  and  play,  in  the  streets  where  every  night  is  Saturday  night. 

Most  of  the  discussion  is  of  the  day  before,  but  the  subject 
always  shifts  to  the  Saint  Joseph's  Night  to  come,  as  everyone 
looks  eagerly  forward  to  the  next  time  they  can  really  cut  loose. 

March  19,  always  an  important  date  in  the  New  Orleans  cal- 
endar, has  been  a  second  Mardi  Gras  to  Negroes  for  the  past  two 
decades.  It  is  tradition  that  Zulus,  Indians  and  Baby  Dolls  don 
their  costumes  that  night  and  revive  the  spirit  of  Fat  Tuesday  for 
a  few  hours. 

There  are  no  parades,  of  course,  but  they  wander  about  on  foot, 
visiting  the  bars,  having  dances  and  parties  at  various  places, 
strutting  their  stuff. 

On  Saint  Joseph's  Night,  1941,  the  music  box  roared  as  usual, 
and  in  the  arms  of  criminals,  hopheads  and  hoboes  the  Baby 
Dolls  danced  and  carried  on.  A  huge  woman,  dressed  as  a  gypsy 
queen  in  garish  colors  and  her  black  face  reddened  with  rouge, 
did  a  solo  number,  popped  her  fingers  and  messed  around. 
Harry,  that  genius  with  the  tambourine,  beat  it  vigorously,  and 
executed  his  inimitable  dance  on  the  crowded  floor. 


26  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

The  Indians  were  there  too.  So  were  the  'Gold  Diggers/  an 
organization  that  gave  the  Baby  Dolls  some  competition.  They 
wore  similar  costumes,  and,  as  if  to  assist  them  along  the  way, 
were  accompanied  by  a  'policeman'  —  a  male  friend  dressed  in  a 
burlesque  uniform  and  cap,  and  carrying  a  club.  They  boasted 
escorts,  too,  each  Gold  Digger  having  a  boy  friend,  who  wore  a 
'dress  suit'  of  pale  blue  satin,  a  top  hat,  and  flourished  a  cane. 
The  Gold  Diggers  wore  blue  satin  costumes  trimmed  with  white 
fur,  false  curls,  and  also  carried  canes.  The  liveliest  of  the  crowd 
was  also  the  largest,  a  Gold  Digger  weighing  well  over  two 
hundred  pounds,  who,  nevertheless,  strutted  her  stuff  with  the 
grace  and  vigor  of  a  bawdy  sprite. 

But  the  Western  Girls,  so  called  because  one  year  they  all  came 
as  Annie  Oakley  (these  are  a  group  of  Negro  female  imperson- 
ators headed  by  'Corinne  the  Queen'),  are  perhaps  the  gayest 
of  all.  In  evening  gowns  and  wigs  they  try  to  outdo  the  real 
girls.  The  ones  who  top  their  extremely  dark  faces  with  golden- 
blonde  and  flaming  red  wigs  are  the  funniest.  As  for  Corinne,  she 
always  maintains  her  regal  bearing,  explaining,  'I'm  a  real 
queen,  and  don't  nobody  never  forget  it!'  The  other  'girls' 
aren't  the  least  bit  jealous,  either,  but  love  Corinne  dearly  be- 
cause 'she's  such  a  gay  cat.'  And  Corinne  has  genuine  claims  to 
majesty.  In  1931  'she'  was  Queen  of  the  Zulus!  That  year  the 
King  said  he  was  disgusted  with  women,  so  he  selected  Corinne 
to  reign  as  his  mate  over  all  of  the  Negro  Mardi  Gras! 


Chapter  2 


Street  Criers 


THE     MULE-DRAWN      WAGON     PULLS     UP      AT     A 

corner  in  one  of  the  residential  sections  of  New  Orleans.    The 
Negro  vendor  cups  his  hands  before  his  mouth  and  bellows: 

Watermelon !   Watermelon !  Red  to  the  rind, 

If  you  don't  believe  me  jest  pull  down  your  blind! 

I  sell  to  the  rich, 
I  sell  to  the  po'; 
I'm  gonna  sell  the  lady 
Standin'  in  that  do*. 

Watermelon,  Lady! 

Come  and  git  your  nice  red  watermelon,  Lady! 

Red  to  the  rind,  Lady! 

Come  on,  Lady,  and  get  'em! 

Gotta  make  the  picnic  fo'  two  o'clock, 

No  flat  tires  today. 

Come  on,  Lady! 

Behind  the  hawker  in  the  wagon  is  a  tumbling  pile  of  green 
serpent-striped  melons;  beside  him  on  the  seat  is  one  halved  to 


2  S  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

show  that  it  is  'red  to  the  rind.'  Despite  this,  the  melon  you 
purchase  will  be  'plugged'  as  proof  that  yours  is  ripe.  The  ped- 
dler opens  his  mouth  again  to  inform  you  that 

I  got  water  with  the  melon,  red  to  the  rind! 

If  you  don't  believe  it  jest  pull  down  your  blind. 

You  eat  the  watermelon  and  preee  —  serve  the  rind! 

The  vendor  selling  cantaloupe  is  an  Italian.    He  sings  out, 

Cantal  —  ope  —  ah! 
Fresh  and  fine, 
Just  offa  de  vine, 
Only  a  dime! 

The  operator  of  a  wagon  selling  a  variety  of  vegetables  offers 
this  one: 

Nice  little  snapbeans, 
Pretty  little  corn, 
Butter  beans,  carrots, 
Apples  for  the  ladies! 
Jui-ceee  lemons ! 

Another,  with  curious  humor,  yells,  'I  got  artichokes  by  the 
neck!' 

The  streets  reverberate  with  their  cries:  'Come  and  gettum, 
Lady!  I  got  green  peppers,  snapbeans,  tur-nips!  I  got  oranges! 
I  got  celery!  I  got  fine  ripe  yellow  banana!  Tur-nips,  Lady! 
Ba-na-na,  Lady!' 

These  peddlers  use  every  means  imaginable  to  ca"rt  their  wares 
-  trucks,  mules  and  wagons,  pushcarts  and  baskets.  A  Negress 
will  balance  one  basket  on  her  head,  carry  two  others,  one  in 
each  hand,  hawking  any  vegetables  and  fruit  in  season.  Particu- 
larly discordant  screams  rend  the  mornings  when  it  is  blackberry 
season. 

Blackber  —  reeees !   Fresh  and  fine. 

I  got  blackber  —  reeeees,  Lady! 

Fresh  from  th'  vine! 

I  got  blackberries,  Lady! 

Three  glass  fo'  a  dime. 

I  got  blackberries ! 


Street  Criers  —  29 

I  got  blackberries! 

BLACK  —  BERRIEEEEEEEEES! 

Negro  youths  often  work  in  pairs,  one  on  each  side  of  a  street, 
each  carrying  baskets  and  crying  alternately  or  in  unison:  'I  got 
mustard  greens  'n  Creole  cabbage!  Come  on,  Lady.  Look  what 
I  got!'  Or,  'Irish  pota-tahs!  Dime  a  bucket!  Lady,  you  ought  a 
see  my  nice  Irish  po-ta-tahs!' 

Many  housewives  purchase  their  food  supplies  from  these  itin- 
erant vendors,  the  prices  often  being  a  bit  below  those  of  the 
shops  and  markets.  Many  have  regular  peddlers  or  basket- 
'totin*  '  Negresses  who  come  daily  to  the  kitchen  door.  They 
will  often,  even  to  this  day,  present  favorite  customers  with  a  bit 
of  parsley  or  a  small  bunch  of  shallots  as  lagniappe. 

A  truck  at  a  curb  in  the  business  section  of  New  Orleans  is 
operated  by  an  Italian  who  offers  'Mandareeeens —  nickel  a 
dozen!'  A  Negro  in  a  spring  wagon  in  the  next  block  outdoes 
him  with  'Mandareens  —  twenty-five  fo'  a  dime!' 

When  strawberries  appear,  preceding  the  blackberry  season, 
peddlers,  both  white  and  colored,  both  male  and  female,  appear 
all  over  the  city.  Even  Sunday  mornings  resound  with  cries  of 

I  got  strawberries,  Lady! 
Strawberries,  Lady! 
Fifteen  cents  a  basket  — 
Two  baskets  for  a  quarter. 

The  housewives  emerge,  peer  into  the  small  boxes  of  berries, 
inspecting  carefully,  always  raising  the  top  layer  of  fruit  to  see 
the  ones  beneath.  There  is  a  little  trade  trick  of  putting  the  red- 
dest and  biggest  berries  on  top,  green,  dry  or  small  ones  —  the 
culls  —  underneath  to  which  all  Louisiana  housekeepers  are 
wise. 

Between  the  strawberry  and  blackberry  seasons  cries  of  'Jew~ 
berry,  Lady!  Nice  jewberries!'  may  be  heard.  This  is  the  dew- 
berry season. 

In  Abbeville,  an  elderly  French  woman  drives  a  mule  before  an 
ancient,  creaky  wagon,  and  peddles  fruit  and  vegetables  each 
morning,  calling  her  wares  in  a  weird  mixture  of  French  and 
Cajun  English.  Known  as  Madame  Mais-La,  she  pulls  up  before 


3  o  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

a  house  and  announces:  'Hello,  dere!  Voule^-vous  legumes  au- 
jourd' huil  Des  bonnes  carrots.  Des  bonnes  pa-pates  douce s.  Des 
pommes  de  terre.  Des  choux-fleurs .  Nonl  Pas  ga  aujourd'hui.  Bien. 
Geedy  up,  dere!' 

The  vending  of  food  in  New  Orleans  streets  is  a  custom  as  old 
as  the  city  itself.  In  earlier  days  the  peddlers  were  even  more 
numerous.  Buying  from  these  wandering  marchandes  was  ex- 
tremely convenient.  Prices  were  low,  the  produce  of  good  qual- 
ity; often  it  was  possible,  after  a  bit  of  wrangling,  to  strike  off  a 
bargain. 

Earlier  counterparts  of  present-day  hawkers  were  the  Green 
Sass  Men,  no  longer  in  existence.  The  Daily  Picayune  of  July  2.4, 
1846,  describes  them  thus: 

Their  stocks  were  very  small,  consisting  generally  of  vegeta- 
bles, a  small  amount  of  fruit  such  as  figs,  peaches  and  melons 
and  —  by  way  of  variety,  although  not  strictly  a  vegetable 
product  —  cream  cheeses.  These  commodities  were  generally 
carried  in  old  champagne  baskets  balanced  on  the  heads  of  the 
Green  Sass  Men,  and  their  cry,  as  near  as  it  can  be  translated,  is 
'  'Ears  ycrfineniceartaties,  artichokes,  cantelopes,  feegs  and 
arnicerkereama  —  cheeses!  'Ear!  'Ear!' 

Most  of  the  French  and  American  slave-owners  of  long  ago 
were  a  thrifty  lot,  and  those  slaves  too  old  to  be  of  other  use  were 
often  put  out  into  the  city  streets  to  peddle  the  surplus  products 
of  the  plantations.  Throughout  the  year,  day  in,  day  out,  their 
cries  resounded  through  the  streets  of  New  Orleans.  All  masters 
were  required  to  purchase  licenses  for  their  slaves,  but  often 
added  thousands  of  dollars  per  year  to  their  incomes  by  so  doing. 
De  Bore,  of  sugar  fame,  who  owned  a  huge  plantation  in  New 
Orleans  w^here  Audubon  Park  now  spreads,  'produced  at  least 
six  thousand  dollars  per  annum'  in  this  fashion,  according  to  one 
authority.  Newspapers  of  the  period  criticized  slave  street- 
vending  as  a  '  very  picayunish  business,'  but  it  lifted  many  of  the 
Negroes'  owners  into  affluence. 

Each  season  had  its  special  commodities.  Early  spring  saw  the 
arrival  of  strawberries,  of  Japanese  plums.  Later,  watermelons, 
dewberries,  blackberries  and  figs  appeared.  Wild  ducks,  rice 


Street  Criers  —  31 

birds  and  other  game  were  sold  on  the  streets  during  winter.  At 
the  French  Market  Choctaw  Indian  squaws  sat  stoically  at  the 
curbs,  offering  gumbo  file  —  powdered  sassafras,  frequently  used 
instead  of  okra  to  thicken  gumbo  —  other  herbs  and  roots,  bas- 
kets and  pottery.  Fat  Negresses  in  starched  white  aprons  and 
garish  tignons  sold  cakes,  molasses  and  coffee  dripped  while  you 
waited.  Other  peddlers  offered  everything  from  cheap  jewelry  to 
live  canaries  in  cages.  Chickens,  alive  but  limply  resigned  to 
fate,  trussed  up  in  bunches  like  carrots,  were  carried  up  and  down 
the  city  streets  by  men  who  poked  their  heads  into  the  windows 
of  homes  and  yelled,  'Cheeec-ken,  Madame?  Nice  fat  spring 
cheee-ken?' 

The  peddlers  of  fish  probably  were  the  most  insistent.    The 
Daily  Picayune  of  April  4,  1889,  reports: 

During  the  Lenten  season,  when  fish  were  in  great  demand, 
the  basket  peddlers  of  the  finny  product  do  an  excellent  busi- 
ness, especially  in  selling  the  inferior  kinds  of  fish.  Their 
wares  are  not  always  of  the  freshest  and  in  many  cases  on  the 
verge  of  decomposition,  yet  they  succeed  in  imposing  upon  the 
careful  housewife  or  servant  by  stout  protestations  that  their 
fish  are  perfectly  fresh.  .  . .  They  ring  at  doorbells  and  if  not 
promptly  answered  jerk  the  wire  as  though  they  would  pull 
the  bell  from  its  fastenings.  A  simple  refusal  to  purchase  in- 
censes them,  and  they  thrust  their  offensive-smelling  fish  in  the 
faces  of  persons,  and  if  they  are  still  refused  frequently  give 
vent  to  curses  and  abuse  of  those  whom  they  seek  to  impose  on. 

A  salesman  of  oysters,  carrying  his  merchandise  in  tin  pails, 
was  also  common  at  one  time,  crying, 

Oyta!   Sally!   Oy  —  ta!   Sally! 
Or  sometimes, 

Oyster  Man!  Oyster  Man! 

Get  your  fresh  oysters  from  the  Oyster  Man! 

Bring  out  your  pitcher,  bring  out  your  can, 

Get  your  nice  fresh  oysters  from  the  Oyster  Man! 

There  was  the  Icecream  Man,  humorously  depicted  by  L<§on 
Fremeaux,  in  a  volume  of  sketches  titled  New  Orleans  Characters, 


$  2  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

as  a  barefooted  Negro  wearing  patched  trousers,  holding  in  one 
hand  a  white  cloth,  carrying  in  his  other  a  basket,  and  on  his 
head,  at  a  perilous  balance,  an  icecream  freezer!  His  cry  was 

Creme  %  la  glace; 
Creme  a  la  vanille! 

Or,  facetiously, 

Icecream,  lemonade, 
Brown  sugar  and  rotten  aig! 

Fresh  milk  and  buttermilk  were  sold  on  the  streets,  the  fresh 
milk  from  horse-drawn  wagons  described  by  the  Daily  Picayune 
as  '  .  . .  a  tall  green  box,  set  between  high  wheels  and  almost 
always  driven  by  Gascons.  The  two  large  bright  brassbound 
cans  that  ornamented  the  front  of  the  wagon,  compelled  the 
driver  to  stand  up  much  of  the  time  in  order  to  see  clearly  before 
him.'  The  Buttermilk  Man  carried  his  large  can  of  buttermilk 
through  the  streets  several  times  a  week,  crying,  'Butter-milk! 
Butter-milk,  Lady?' 

Very  early  in  the  life  of  the  Creole  city,  even  water  was  sold  in 
this  fashion,  being  dispensed  from  carts  loaded  with  huge  hogs- 
heads. Wine,  too,  was  often  vended. 


THE  BREAD  AND  CAKE  VENDORS 

The  most  famous  of  these  were  the  cala  vendors.  A  cala  is  a 
pastry  which  originated  among  Creole  Negroes  —  a  thin  fritter 
made  with  rice  and  yeast  sponge.  Creoles  did  not  have  the  pre- 
pared yeast  cakes  sold  today,  so  yeast  was  concocted  the  night 
before,  of  boiled  potatoes,  corn  meal,  flour  and  cooking  soda, 
left  in  the  night  air  to  ferment,  then  mixed  with  the  boiled  rice 
and  made  into  a  sponge.  The  next  morning  flour,  eggs,  butter 
and  milk  were  added,  a  stiff  batter  mixed,  and  the  calas  formed 
by  dropping  spoonfuls  into  a  skillet. 

'Belles  calas ,  Madam!  Tout  chauds,  Madame,  Two  cents!'  thus 
called  the  cala  vendors  for  years.  A  long  cry  was, 

Belles  calas,  Beautiful  rice  fritters, 

Madame,  mo  gaignin  calas,  Madame,  I  have  rice  fritters, 


Street  Criers  —  55 

Madame,  mo  gaignin  calas,  Madame,  I  have  rice  fritters, 

Madame,  mo  gaignin  calas;  Madame,  I  have  rice  fritters; 

Mo  guaranti  vous  ye  bons  I  guarantee  you  they  are  good 

Beeelles  calas  . . .  Beeelles  calas.  Fine  rice  fritters  . . .  Fine  rice  fritters. 

Madame,  mo  gaignin  calas,  Madame,  I  have  rice  fritters, 

Madame,  mo  gaignin  calas,  Madame,  I  have  rice  fritters, 

Si  vous  pas  gaignin  1'argent,  If  you  have  no  money, 

Goutez  c'est  la  mem'  chose,  Taste,  it's  all  the  same, 

Madame,  mo  gaignin  calas  tou,  tou  Madame,  I  have  rice  fritters,  quite, 
cho.  quite  hot. 

Beeles  calas  .  . .  Beeelles  calas,'  Fiiiine  rice  fritters  . . .  Fiiiine  rice  frit- 

ters, 

Tou  cho,  tou  cho,  tou  cho.  All  hot,  all  hot,  quite  hot. 

Madame,  mo  gaignin  calas,  Madame,  I  have  rice  fritters, 

Madame,  mo  gaignin  calas,  Madame,  I  have  rice  fritters, 

Tou  cho,  tou  cho,  tou  cho.  Quite  hot,  quite  hot,  quite  hot. 

Clementine,  a  Negress,  well-dressed  in  a  bright  tignon,  fichu  of 
white  lawn,  tied  with  a  large  breast  pin,  a  starched  blue  ging- 
ham skirt  and  stiff  snowy  apron,  would  sing, 

Beeeeeelles  calas  —  Beeeeeelles  calas  —  Aaaaaa! 

Madame,  mo  gaignin  calas, 

Madame,  mo  gaignin  calas, 

Tou  cho,  tou  cho,  tou  cho. 

Beeeeeelles  calas  —  Belles  calas 

A  madame  mo  gaignin  calas, 

Mo  guaranti  vous  ye  bons! 

Another  Negress  sold  her  calas  in  front  of  the  old  Saint  Louis 
Cathedral,  cooking  them  in  a  pan  over  a  small  furnace,  while  the 
customer  waited.  Without  raising  her  voice  she  would  mutter 
hoarsely  and  incessantly,  '  Mo  gaignin  calas .  .  .  Madame,  mo 
gaignin  calas .  .  .  Calas,  calas,  calas,  calas,  tou  cho,  calas,  calas, 
calas;  Mo  gaignin  calas,  Madame .  .  .  calas,  calas,  calas,  calas. 

Some  vendors  sold  not  only  calas  of  rice,  but  also  calas  of  cow- 
peas,  crying, 

Calas  tout  chauds,  Madame, 
Calas  au  ri%  calas  aux  feves! 


}  4  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Another  cry  was 

Too  shoo-o-o-o-oh 
Tout  chauds  —  all  hot! 
Galas  —  calas  —  tout  chauds, 
Belles  —  calas  —  tout  chauds, 
Madame,  mo  gaignin  calas, 
Madame,  mo  gaignin  calas,  tou 
Chauds  tou  chauds! 

One  of  the  last  professional  cala  vendors  on  New  Orleans 
streets  was  Richard  Gabriel,  a  colored  descendant  of  these  Creole 
Negroes.  He  improved  the  system  somewhat,  pushing  a  cart 
similar  to  the  sort  used  by  the  peanut  vendors,  and  chanting  in 
more  modern  fashion, 

We  sell  it  to  the  rich,  we  sell  it  to  the  poor, 

We  give  it  to  the  sweet  brownskin,  peepin'  out  the  door. 

Tout  chaud,  Madame,  tout  chaud! 

Git  'em  while  they're  hot!   Hot  calas! 

One  cup  of  coffee,  fifteen  cents  calas, 
Make  you  smile  the  livelong  day. 
Calas,  tout  chauds,  Madame,  Tout  chauds! 
Git  'em  while  they're  hot!   Hot  calas! 

Other  songs  are 

The  little  Jamaica  boy  he  say, 

More  you  eatta,  more  you  wanta  eatta. 

Get  'em  while  they're  hotta.    Hot  calas! 

Tout  chauds,  Madame,  tout  chauds. 


And 


Tell  'em  what  they  do  you,  take  off  that  Saturday  frown, 

Put  on  that  Sunday  morning  smile,  to  last  the  whole  day  'round. 

Tout  chauds,  Madame,  tout  chauds! 

That's  how  two  cups  of  cafe,  fifteen  cents  calas  can  make 

You  smile  the  livelong  day. 

Tout  chauds,  Madame,  tout  chauds! 

Get  'em  while  they're  hot!   Hot  calas! 


Street  Criers  -  }  / 

There  used  to  be  two  cala  women  who  would  sing  alternately : 

ist:  Galas,  Galas,  —  all  nice  and  hot 

Galas,  Galas,  —  all  nice  and  hot 
2.d :    Lady,  me  I  have  calasl  Laaa-dy,  me  I  have  calasl 

All  nice  'n  hot  —  all  nice  'n  hot  —  all  nice  'n  hot. . . . 

Well  known  was  the  Cymbal  Man,  who,  according  to  the 
Daily  Picayune  of  July  2.4,  1846,  confined  his  rambles  to  the 
French  section  of  New  Orleans,  offering  also  'doughnuts  and 
crullers,'  which  were  favorites  with  the  Creoles.  His  musical 
'toooo-shoooo-oooo'  never  failed  to  bring  most  of  them  out. 

The  Corn  Meal  Man,  noted  for  his  wit  and  humor,  would 
prowl  the  streets,  blowing  on  a  small  brass  trumpet  worn  on  a 
cord  about  his  neck.  His  greeting  was  usually,  'Bon  jour, 
Madame,  Mam  -  Belief  Fresh  corn  meal,  right  from  the  mill. 
Oui,  Mam  -  %elle.r  accompanied  by  a  hearty  laugh.  The  Daily 
Delta  of  June  3,  1850,  reports  him  doing  business  on  horse- 
back, saying,  ' . . .  his  fat,  glossy  horse  looks  as  if  he  partook 
of  no  scant  portion  of  the  corn  meal!'  A  very  early  corn  meal 
peddler  was  known  as  Signer  Cornmeali. 

Among  the  most  famous  of  the  cake  vendors  were  the  Gaufre 
Men  or  Shaving  Cake  Men,  who  sold  not  shaving  soap,  but 
pastries  that  had  the  appearance  of  timber  shavings.  These  were 
kept  in  a  tin  box  strapped  to  the  back,  while  the  Gaufre  Man 
announced  his  approach  by  beating  on  a  metal  triangle  as  he 
strode  the  city  streets.  The  last  Gaufre  Man,  bewhiskered  but 
always  clean  and  neatly  attired,  never  revealed  the  secret  of  his 
thin,  crisp,  cone-shaped  pastries.  When  he  died,  the  recipe  died 
with  him,  and  gaufres  are  now  unknown  in  New  Orleans. 

Hot  potato  cakes,  made  usually  of  sweet  potatoes,  were  sold 
by  Negro  women.  These  vendors,  Emmet  Kennedy  says,  were 
heard  mostly  in  the  French  Quarter  around  nightfall.  In  his 
Mellows  he  describes  their  cry  as  follows : 

Bel  pam  pa-tat, 
Bal  pam  pa-tat,  Madame, 
Ou-lay-ou  Le  Bel  Pam  Patat, 
Pam  patat! 


3  6  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Everything  the  old  Creole  Negresses  sold  was  either  'bel'  — 
beautiful  —  or  'bon'  —  good. 

A  bread  made  of  Irish  potatoes  was  also  sold,  to  the  following 
song: 

Pain  pafatte,  Potato  bread, 

Pain  patatte.,  Madame,  Potato  bread,  Madam, 

Achetez  pain  patatte,  Buy  potato  bread, 

Madame,  mo  gaignin  pain  patatte.  Madam,  I  have  potato  bread. 

Hot  pies  were  another  favorite  commodity,  the  vendor  carry- 
ing his  wares  in  a  cloth-covered  basket,  crying,  'Ho'  pies  — 
chauds!  Ho'  pies  —  chauds!' 

There  are  modern  versions  of  these  last.  Each  day  pie  peddlers 
appear  on  the  docks  of  New  Orleans,  moving  among  the  long- 
shoremen, carrying  their  pies  —  and  often  sandwiches  and 
candy  —  in  a  basket.  Occasionally  a  pie  man  will  appear  in  one 
of  the  residential  sections,  with  a  monotonous  cry  of  '  Hot  pies  — 
-  hot  pies  —  hot  pies  —  hot  pies!'  A  Negro  woman,  always 
dressed  in  snowy  white,  hawks  pies  and  sandwiches  through  the 
business  district  of  the  city,  rolling  her  merchandise  along  in  a 
baby  carriage. 

At  least  one  man  still  sells  bread  on  the  streets.  Pushing  a  cart 
he  calls  out,  '  Bread  Man !  Bread  Man !  I  got  French  bread,  Lady. 
I  got  sliced  bread.  I  got  raisin  bread.  Lady!  I  got  rolls,  Lady! 
Bread  Man,  Lady!' 

The  Waffle  Man  is  a  fine  old  man. 
He  washes  his  face  in  a  frying-pan, 
He  makes  his  waffles  with  his  hand, 
Everybody  loves  the  Waffle  Man. 

For  years  those  who  believed  this  little  ditty  ran  out  at  the 
shrill  blast  of  the  Waffle  Man's  bugle.  Children  eagerly  thrust 
their  nickels  forward  to  purchase  one  of  his  delicious  hot  waffles 
sprinkled  liberally  with  powdered  sugar.  His  wagon,  horse- 
drawn,  was  usually  white  and  yellow  and  set  on  high  wheels. 
One  Waffle  Man  still  appears  daily  in  New  Orleans,  vending 
waffles  from  a  brilliant  red-and-yellow  wagon.  But  now  he  ca- 
ters mostly  to  fully  grown  males  of  the  stock-exchange  neighbor- 
hood. 


Street  Criers  -57 

THE  CANDY  AND  FLOWER  VENDORS 

The  Candy  Man,  according  to  the  Daily  Picayune  of  July  15, 
1846,  'carried  his  caraway  comfits  and  other  sweets  in  a  large 
green  tin  chest  upon  which  was  emblazoned,  in  the  brightest 
yellow,  two  razors  affectionately  crossed  over  each  other.'  Un- 
like the  other  vendors,  this  Candy  Man  had  no  cry,  but  attracted 
attention  by  beating  on  a  metal  triangle.  Until  a  few  years  ago, 
later  Candy  Men,'  driving  squarish,  high  wagons,  paused  at  cor- 
ners, blew  piercing  blasts  on  trumpets  and  sold  taffy  in  long, 
wax-paper-wrapped  sticks. 

Pralines  have  been  sold  on  New  Orleans  streets  through  all  the 
city's  history,  and  always  the  delicious  Creole  confections  of 
brown  sugar  and  pecans  have  been  vended  by  Negresses  of  the 
'Mammy'  type.  Today  they  appear,  garbed  in  gingham  and 
starched  white  aprons  and  tignons^  usually  in  the  Vieux  Carre, 
though  now  they  represent  modern  candy  shops.  'Belles  pra- 
lines!' they  cry.  'Belles  pralines/'  Day  by  day  they  sit  in  the 
shadows  of  the  ancient  buildings,  fat  black  faces  smiling  at  the 
passers-by,  fanning  their  candies  with  palmetto  fans  or  strips  of 
brown  wrapping  paper.  Usually,  besides  the  pralines,  Mammy 
dolls  and  other  souvenirs  are  sold. 

Flowers  are  not  sold  on  the  streets  as  frequently  as  they  are  in 
some  other  cities,  but  in  the  Vieux  Carre  elderly  flower  women 
and  young  girls  and  boys  peddle  corsages  of  rosebuds  and  camel- 
lias in  the  small  bars  and  cafes,  chanting  at  your  table,  '  Flowers? 
Pretty  flowers  for  the  lady?' 


.  THE  CHARCOAL  MAN 

Char-coal,  Lady!  Char-coal!  Chah-ah-coal,  Lady! 

Until  recently  practically  everyone  employed  Negro  wash- 
women, who  boiled  clothes  and  other  washing  over  small  fur- 
naces in  the  backyards,  and  charcoal  was  always  in  demand. 
Almost  every  day  this  familiar  cry  rang  through  the  streets. 
Lafcadio  Hearn  described  one  cry  of  the  Charcoal  Man's  as 


$8  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Black  —  coalee  —  coalee! 

Coaly  —  coaly;  coaly  —  coaly  —  coal  —  coal  -7-  coal. 

Coaly  —  coaly! 

Coal  — eee!  Nice! 

Chah  —  coal ! 

Twenty-five!  Whew! 

O  Charco-oh-oh-oh-h-oh-lee! 

Oh  — lee  — eee! 

(You  get  some  coal  in  your  mout',  young  fellow,  if  you 

don't  keep  it  shut!) 
Pretty  coalee  -—oh  —  lee! 
Charcoal ! 

Cha  —  ah  —  ahr  —  coal ! 

Charbon!  Du  charbon,  Madame!  Bon  charbori?  Point!   Ai-ai! 
Tonnerre  de  dieu! 
Cha-r-r-r-r-r-r-rbon  I 
A- a- a- a- a- a- a- aw  I 
Vingt-cinq!   Nice  coalee!  Coalee! 
Coaly-coal-coal ! 
Pretty  coaly! 
Charbon  de  Paris! 
De  Parts  ^  Madame;  de  Paris! 

Leonard  Parker,  a  Negro,  remembered  the  following  one: 

Char-coal!  Charcoal! 
My  horse  is  white,  my  face  is  black. 
I  sell  my  charcoal,  two-bits  a  sack  — 
Char-coal !   Char-coal ! 

Though  modern  use  of  laundry  facilities  has  made  the  Charcoal 
Man  a  rarity  now,  he  may  be  seen  occasionally  —  and  heard  - 
seated  on  a  broken-down  wagon,  drawn  by  an  equally  broken- 
down  horse,  often  adorned  with  a  straw  bonnet,  singing  out 
his  repetitious  chant  of '  Char-coal,  Lady!  Char-coal !'  Today  his 
merchandise  is  neatly  packed  in  paper  sacks. 

Then  there  is  his  brother,  once  just  as  evident  in  the  city,  now 
just  as  rare,  who  cries,  'Stone-coal,  Lady!  Stone-coal!'  and  who 
is  being  gradually  forced  out  of  existence  by  present  use  of  steam 
and  gas  heat,  instead  of  the  old-fashioned  grate  fires. 


Street  Criers 


THE  CLOTHES  POLE  MAN 


'Daily  he  goeth  forth  out  beyond  the  limits  of  the  city,  into 
lonesome  and  swampy  places  where  copperheads  and  rattle- 
snakes abound.  And,  there  he  cutteth  him  clothespoles,  where- 
with he  marcheth  through  the  city,  in  the  burning  glare  of  the 
sun,  singing  a  refrain  simple  in  words  but  weird  in  music.'  So 
wrote  Hearn  of  the  Clothes  Pole  Man. 

This  queer  merchant,  always  colored,  wanders  through  the 
streets,  usually  wearing  an  ancient  derby,  ragged  coat  and 
trousers.  Fremeaux's  sketch  shows  him  in  the  derby,  a  light 
laven.der  shirt,  dark  frock  coat  and  patched  pants.  On  one 
shoulder  is  a  folded  cloth  on  which  rest  his  poles. 

'  Cl'  s  po-u-u-les  !  '  he  cries  .    '  Cl'  s  po-u-ules  !  ' 

Housewives  buy  the  poles  at  prices  which  range  from  ten  to 
twenty-five  cents.  A  favorite  cry  is 

Clothes  poles  !  Clothes  poles  ! 

Hear  the  man  comin'  with  the  clothes  poles! 

Only  a  nickel,  only  a  dime! 
Clothes  poles  —  Clothes  pole  man! 
Clothes  pole  man  sellin'  clothes  poles! 

Clothes  poles,  Lady! 
Nice  clean  clothes  poles! 

The  poles  are  cleaned  and  '  skinned'  after  being  cut,  and  must 
be  forked  at  one  end.  There  is  evidence  that  the  same  pole  may 
be  sold  several  times,  if  the  merchant  is  smart  enough.  One 
housewife,  after  her  poles  had  been  disappearing  in  a  peculiar 
fashion,  watched  the  yard  one  moonlight  night  and  captured  a 
small  Negro  making  off  with  several  of  them.  He  confessed  he 
sold  them  back  to  the  same  Clothes  Pole  Man  who  had  been 
selling  them  to  her. 

THE  CHIMNEY  SWEEP 

Wherever  he  has  appeared,  the  Chimney  Sweep  has  been  a 
fascinating  and  picturesque  character.  It  is  still  possible  to  see 


4  o  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

the  New  Orleans  variety,  and  he  has  changed  very  little  in  ap- 
pearance despite  the  many  years  his  cries  have  echoed  through 
the  city's  streets.  Unlike  the  sweep  of  London,  he  wears  a  tall, 
battered  silk  hat,  a  swallowtail  coat,  and  he  is  always  a  Negro, 
usually  as  black  as  the  soot  in  which  he  works.  There  is  always 
the  coil  of  rope  on  one  shoulder,  several  bunches  of  palmetto  and 
a  sheaf  of  broom  straw.  As  he  wanders  through  the  neighbor- 
hood he  shouts: 

Ra-mi-neau!   Ra-mi-neau!   Ra-mi-neau! 
Lady,  I  know  why  your  chimney  won't  draw, 
Oven  won't  bake  and  you  can't  make  no  cake, 
An'  I  know  why  your  chimney  won't  draw! 

Hired,  he  scurries  agilely  up  to  the  roof,  sometimes  assisted  by 
a  smaller,  younger,  but  equally  black  edition  of  himself,  and  as 
he  works  he  sings.  One  odd  song  common  to  the  New  Orleans 
Chimney  Sweep  is  : 


Val-seur,  Waltz,  Waltzer, 

Val-se^  pour  ce-le-brer  Waltz  to  celebrate 

La  S'fe  Marie.  St.  Mary's  Day. 

Dieu  sait  si  I'annee  prochaine  God  knows  if  next  year 

Nous  celebrerons  la  S'fe  Mane!  We  will  celebrate  St.  Mary's  Day! 

Others  cry  :  '  R-R-R-R-Raminay  !  R-r-r-r-r-ramone^  la  chiminee  du 
haut  en  has!'  'Ramonez,'  'Raminay,'  'R_amineaux'  and  'Rami- 
neau*  seem  all  to  be  corruptions  of  the  French  'Ramoneur'  or 
Chimney  Sweeper. 

Some  travel  in  pairs  and  alternate  their  call  thus  : 

ist  Sweep:   Ramone^  la  cheminee  .  .  .  Rrrrrrramone^  la  cheminee! 
id  Sweep:    Valsefj  valseur,  valse^  pour  celebrer  la  S'fe  Marie.  .  .  . 

A  contemporary  team  of  sweeps,  Willie  Hall  and  Albert 
Hut  chins,  sing: 

Get  over,  get  over  slick, 

Save  dat  chimney,  save  it  quick. 

Willie  and  Albert  chant  the  'Chimney  Sweeper's  Blacks,'  ap- 
parently their  own  composition. 


Street  Criers  —  4 1 

Here's  yo'  chimney  sweeps, 

We  goes  up  to  the  roofs, 

Sweep  the  smokestacks  down  right  now, 

Don't  care  for  soot,  anyhow. 

Rami  —  neau!  Rami  —  neau!  Rami  —  neau! 

Sweep  'em  clean!  Sweep  'em  clean! 
Save  the  firemen  lots  of  work, 
We  hate  soot,  we  never  shirk, 
Sweep  'em  clean!  Sweep  'em  clean! 

Willie  cheerfully  waxed  biographical. 

'  I  been  a  chimney  sweeper  for  forty-five  years  now.  I'm  most 
eighty  years  old,  and  I've  made  me  a  good  livin'.  There  was  a 
season  to  it,  but  I've  always  had  my  regular  customers.  I  done 
swept  some  of  the  best  chimneys  in  town.' 

One  reason  the  Chimney  Sweep  keeps  singing  as  he  works  is 
to  let  anyone  who  might  be  below  know  the  chimney  is  being 
cleaned  and  to  protect  him  from  being  showered  with  soot.  All 
during  his  work  the  songs  go  on  and  the  cry  comes, 

'RO  — MI  — NAY!' 

THE  BOTTLE  MAN 

The  Bottle  Man  is  still  seen  now  and  then.  Either  Italian  or 
Negro,  driving  a  horse  and  wagon,  he  cries,  as  the  horse  bobs 
sleepily  along,  'Any  old  bot'?  Any  old  bot'  today?' 

Now  he  pays  —  rather  reluctantly  —  in  cash.  But  in  other 
days  his  approach  was  a  signal  for  the  children  to  run  forth  at  the 
blast  of  his  horn  in  as  an  enthusiastic  response  as  ever  answered 
the  Pied  Piper  of  Hamlin.  The  Bottle  Man  of  a  past  era  pushed  a 
cart  along  the  banquette^  and  his  payment  for  'old  bot's'  was 
much  more  interesting  than  mere  money.  For  while  his  cart  had 
an  upper  section  devoted  to  a  huge  bin  which  held  his  collected 
bottles,  the  lower  section  was  a  drawer  filled  with  the  most 
amazing  collection  of  trinkets  ever  possessed  by  anyone  except 
Santa  Claus.  For  their  bottles  the  youngsters  received  tops, 
whistles,  horns,  rattles  or  pink-and-white  peppermints!  Bar- 
gaining was  spirited  and  educational.  The  children's  aim  was  to 


42.  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

get  as  many  toys  as  possible  for  their  bottles;  the  Bottle  Man's, 
to  give  as  little. 

During  the  nineties  a  fleet  of  thirty  or  forty  luggers  visited  the 
plantations  above  and  below  the  city,  collecting  bottles.  The 
Daily  Picayune,  July  iz,  1891,  described  how  nearly  every  week 
three  or  four  of  the  boats  discharged  their  cargo  of  old  bottles  at 
the  wharves  in  New  Orleans.  Many  dealers  employed  twenty  or 
more  collectors  and  there  was  always  a  good  market  for  beer 
bottles,  whiskey  and  champagne  bottles,  condiment  and  relish 
bottles  of  all  sorts.  Medicine  bottles  were  never  resold,  the  lone 
exception  to  what  the  Bottle  Man  would  buy. 

Most  of  the  Bottle  Men  of  today  have  added  other  merchandise 
to  their  business  —  generally  rags  and  bones.  Usually  the  cry  is 

Any  bottles,  any  bones,  any  rags  today? 
Any  old  bottles 
Any  old  bones  today? 

There  are  men,  too,  who  specialize  in  rags,  chanting: 

Old  Rag  Man!   Get  your  rags  ready! 

For  the  old  Rag  Man ! 

Money  to  be  made ! 

Get  your  rags  ready  for  the  old  Rag  Man ! 

A  kindred  soul  is  the  itinerant  Junk  Man,  who  may  purchase 
any  scrap  iron,  discarded  pieces  of  furniture  and  such  valuables. 


THE  TIN-A-FEEX  MAN 

In  a  feex  —  tin-a-feex! 
Tin-a-Feex  Man! 

So  he  sang  through  the  neighborhoods,  usually  Italian,  carry- 
ing a  small  furnace,  a  few  tools  and  some  solder.  The  cry  of 
'Tin-a-Feex!  Tin-a-Feex  Man!'  used  to  bring  forth  all  the  pots 
and  pans  in  the  neighborhoods  through  which  he  passed. 


THE  BROOM  MAN 

The  Broom  Man  is  blind,  tall  and  growing  old.    Bent  under 
the  weight  of  the  brooms  and  mops  he  carries  on  his  back,  he 


Street  Criers  —  4  5 

rambles  along,  thumping  loudly  on  the  pavements  with  a  cane, 
as  much  to  attract  attention  as  to  feel  his  way.  Often  he  appears 
wearing  a  baseball  catcher's  mask  over  his  chalky,  sightless 
face,  across  the  top  of  which  runs  a  strap  which  helps  to  hold 
his  wares  in  place.  His  cry  is  monotonous,  a  mere  gibberish, 
punctuated  with  sharp  explosions. 

Mopanbroom!  Mopanbroom!  MopanbroOM! 
Herecotnes  themopanbroom ! 
GetyourmopanbrOOM ! 
MopanbroOMmopanbroOMmopanbrOOOOM! 

THE  COFFEE  WOMEN 

Negro  women  owned  most  of  the  coffee  stands  that  were  scat- 
tered through  old  New  Orleans.  These  women  dispensed  cups 
of  freshly  made  coffee  from  little  street  stands  to  the  melodious 
chant  of  'Cafe  noir!'  and  'Cafe  au  lattT  In  her  The  Story  of  the 
French  Market  Catherine  Cole  writes : ' . . .  Old  Rose,  whose  mem- 
ory is  embalmed  in  the  amber  of  many  a  song  and  picture  and 
story,  kept  the  most  famous  coffee  stall  of  the  old  French  Market. 
She  was  a  little  Negress  who  had  earned  money  to  buy  her  free- 
dom from  slavery.  Her  coffee  was  like  the  benediction  that  fol- 
lows after  prayer;  or  if  you  prefer  it,  the  Benedictine  after  dinner.' 

Zabette  and  Rose  Gla  were  two  other  well-known  coffee 
women.  Zabette  had  her  stand  in  front  of  the  Cathedral.  In  the 
curious  journalese  of  the  day,  the  Daily  Picayune  describes  Rose 
Gla  as  ' ...  one  of  the  comeliest  of  her  race,  black  as  Erebus,  but 
smiling  always  and  amicable  as  dawn.  Her  coffee  was  the  es- 
sence of  the  fragrant  bean,  and  since  her  death  the  lovers  of  that 
divine  beverage  wander  listlessly  around  the  stalls  on  Sunday 
mornings  with  a  pining  at  the  bosom  which  cannot  be  satisfied.' 

Zabette  is  described  as  dispensing  '  choice  black  coffee  in  tiny 
cups  to  her  clients'  and  a  notable  sale  is  recorded  when  'an  old 
song  was  composed  extempore  by  a  representative  Creole  on  a 
certain  morning  succeeding  a  sleepless  night,  which  she  took  as 
the  price  of  a  cup  of  coffee  and  which  began  in  this  wise : 

Piti  fille,  piti  fille,  piti  fillc,  Little  girl,  little  girl,  little  girl, 

Pitt  fillc  qui  court  dan  dolo. , . .'         Little  girl  who  ran  in  the  water. , . . 


44  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Zabette  also  sold  homemade  pastries  and  btere  du  pays  —  beer 
brewed  from  pineapples. 

During  the  eighteen-forties  a  quadroon  woman  had  a  stand 
on  Canal  Street,  a  block  from  where  Henry  Clay's  statue  once 
stood.  A  woman  named  Manet te  operated  a  coffee  stall  in  the 
French  Market.  Children  sent  to  market  would  always  keep  a 
picayune  from  the  market  money  given  them  for  a  sip  of  her  de- 
licious and  fragrant  brew  before  starting  homeward  under  the 
weight  of  their  well-filled  baskets. 


THE  KINDLING  MEN 

Before  the  coming  of  the  factories  that  sawed  wood  into  stove 
lengths,  wood  sawyers  made  the  rounds,  ringing  bells  in  the 
gates  and  calling  loudly:  'Any  wood  today,  Mam?  C'n  saw  two 
cords  for  a  dollar  an'  one  cord  for  fifty  cents.  Yes'm.  Thank  yo', 
mam!  I'll  just  pitch  right  in.' 

Carrying  in  his  saw  and  buck,  sticking  an  old  pipe  in  his 
mouth  he  would  start  right  in,  singing  all  the  while: 

Oh-o-oh,  Mah  Lady, 
Oh-o-oh,  Mah  Lady, 
Oh-o-oh,  Mah  Lady  Jo-o-oe! 

Dinner  was  usually  part  of  his  price.  '  Yes,  'm,  I  shore  could 
use  a  bite.  This  sure  is  good  ham.  Yes,  'm.  Thank  yo',  mam!' 


THE  KNIFE  SHARPENER 

For  years  a  man  with  a  grindstone  mounted  on  a  wheelbarrow- 
like  frame  went  about  the  streets,  blowing  a  three-  or  four-note 
whistle  which  signified  to  housewives  that  the  knife  grinder  was 
in  the  neighborhood.  Another  knife  sharpener  of  early  days 
carried  only  two  small  pieces  of  steel  fastened  together  in  a  sort 
of  Saint  Andrew's  cross.  Into  this  cross  he  would  thrust  the 
knife,  leaving  it  thin  and  keen. 

Occasionally  a  knife  grinder  is  still  heard  rambling  through 
the  city,  usually  crying:  'Any  knifes  to  sharp'?  Any  knifes  to 
sharp'  today?' 


Street  Criers  —  4$ 

THE  UMBRELLA  MAN 

The  Umbrella  Man  is  usually  a  somewhat  seedy  gentleman, 
inquiring  in  loud  and  nasal  tones :  '  Ombrellas  to  maynde?  Any 
old  ombrellas  to  maynde?'  On  his  stooped  back  is  his  load  of 
umbrellas  and  parasols,  for  unless  the  work  required  is  very 
minor,  he  must  take  them  home  or  to  his  shop. 


ZOZO  LA  BRIQUE 

Zozo  la  Brique  (Zozo  the  Brick)  was  a  well-known  character 
among  the  Creoles  some  years  ago.  She  peddled  the  red  brick 
dust  so  popularly  used  to  scrub  stoops  and  walks  in  certain  sec- 
tions of  New  Orleans.  Zozo  insisted  upon  being  paid  in  nickels, 
which  it  is  said  she  hoarded.  There  is  even  a  story  that  Zozo's 
miserliness  increased  until  she  eventually  starved  herself  to 
death,  and  that  a  considerable  sum  —  at  least  several  hundred 
dollars  —  was  found  hidden  in  her  mattress,  all  in  nickels.  Zozo 
carried  a  pail  of  brick  dust  in  each  hand  and  another  balanced  on 
her  head.  Generally  considered  to  be  slightly  demented,  chil- 
dren were  always  teasing  her  because  of  her  nickname  of  'Zozo' 
-  which  of  course  meant  '  bird.'  Anita  Fanvergne  recalled  that 
youngsters  would  run  behind  her  in  the  street,  yelling,  '  Zozo, 
look  at  that  bird  up  there !'  Zozo  would  only  reply,  '  Tsh !  Tsh !' 
She  is  said  to  have  loved  children,  and  never  to  have  become 
angry  with  them.  As  much  as  she  prized  them,  she  would  often 
spend  her  precious  nickels  for  sticks  of  peppermint  candy  to  give 
to  the  youngsters  who  taunted  her. 

There  were  many  other  street  merchants,  some  itinerant,  oth- 
ers stationary,  with  stands  or  stalls  or  simply  'squatters'  rights' 
along  the  curbs  of  the  city.  Marchands  carrying  their  stocks  on 
their  backs  and  heads,  in  pushcarts  and  horse-drawn  wagons, 
satisfied  most  of  the  needs  of  the  Creole  households. 

Practically  everything  was  sold  in  this  way  in  earlier  days. 
There  were  the  Bird  Men,  who  affected  a  Spanish  costume  - 
sombrero,  blue  nankeen  frocks,  and  pantaloons  tucked  into  rough 
boots.    Trapping  their  merchandise  in  the  swamps  and  country- 


4  6  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

side  just  out  of  the  city  limits,  the  Bird  Men  carried  them 
through  the  streets  in  small  cages  suspended  from  poles  across 
their  shoulders.  The  Daily  Picayune  of  July  15,  1846,  mentions  a 
hawker  who  'offered  everything  from  dry  goods  to  gold 
watches,'  carried  on  a  circular  portable  bench  or  table,  in  the 
center  of  which  he  walked  as  he  rambled  through  the  neighbor- 
hoods,-crying  loudly,  '  Au  rabais!  Au  rabais!'  (The  rabais  man 
always  claimed  to  undersell  his  competitors.  The  cry  ' Au 
rabais!'  might  best  be  translated  as  'Off  price!'  Today,  Orlean- 
ians  are  likely  to  refer  to  any  small  notions  or  drygoods  store  as 
a  '  rabais  shop. ') 

Bayou  peddlers  came  down  the  waterways,  singing  their 
songs.  Others  journeyed  down  the  Mississippi  in  boats:  the  Jew 
with  his  hundred-blade  penknife  and  scores  of  other  articles;  the 
Yankee  with  his  curious  knick-knacks.  French,  Spaniards, 
Americans,  Negroes,  Mexicans,  Indians  —  all  offered  their 
wares.  Along  the  streets  Italians  sold  gaudily  painted  plaster 
saints.  On  hot  summer  evenings  wandering  marchands  hawked 
palmetto  fans,  calling,  '  Latanier!  Latanier!' 

Candle  vendors  crying,  'Belle  chandelles!  Belle  chandelles!' 
(Beautiful  candles !  Beautiful  candles !)  offered  candles  of  myrtle 
wax,  guaranteed  to  make  even  the  'darkness  visible.'  Negresses 
sold  bowls  of  hot  gumbo  on  the  streets,  delicious  pastries  and 
estomac  muldtre^  a  gingerbread  humorously  known  by  that  name 
(mulatto  belly).  And  the  crayfish  vendors  brought  housewives 
out  to  purchase  the  principal  ingredient  for  their  delicious  cray- 
fish bisque  with  cries  of '  'Crebiche,  Madame!  Belle  'crebiche!'  (Cray- 
fish vendors  are  still  seen  and  heard,  hawking  the  delicacy  — 
already  boiled  —  from  tin  buckets,  crying:  'Red  hot!  Red  hot!' 
People  hearing  them  say:  'Here  comes  Red  Hot!') 

Rich  basses  and  shrill  trebles,  whining,  pleading,  cajoling, 
screaming,  the  cries  blended  and  mingled  into  a  symphony  of 
the  city: 

Au  Rabais!   Au  Rabais! 

Latanier!   Latanier! 

Ramone^!   Rampne^! 

Belles  des  Figues!   Belles  des  Figuesf 

Bons  -pet its  calas! 


Street  Criers  —  47 

Tout  chauds!   Tout  chauds! 
Comfitures  coco! 
Pralines,  Pistaches! 
Pralines,  Pacanes! 

And  from  these  first  sellers  of  fans  and  figs,  of  pastries  and 
pralines,  of  candles  and  calas,  descended  the  vendors  of  today. 

On  hot  summer  nights  children  —  and  adults,  too  —  wait  for 
the  Snowball  Man,  who  peddles  scoops  of  crushed  ice  over  which 
your  choice  of  sweet  syrup  is  poured.  The  price  is  usually  from 
three  to  five  cents,  and  for  an  extra  penny  you  may  have  two 
kinds  of  syrup.  Most  Snowball  Men  use  pushcarts,  gaily  deco- 
rated with  colored  crepe  paper  or  oilcloth.  The  syrups  —  straw- 
berry, raspberry,  spearmint,  chocolate,  vanilla,  pineapple,  or- 
ange, lemon  and  nectar  —  are  sometimes  given  other  names, 
occasionally  after  movie  stars,  such  as  'Mae  West  Syrup/  In  the 
Carrollton  section  'Charlie'  has  been  king  of  the  Snowball  Men 
for  years.  He  sells  his  wares  from  a  small  truck,  stopping  at 
corners,  and  ringing  a  bell.  Children  say:  'Here  comes  Charlie!' 
when  they  hear  his  bell  a  block  or  two  away  and  run  inside  to 
beg  pennies  from  their  parents;  many  gather  on  street  corners  to 
wait  for  Charlie  when  it  is  time  for  him.  No  railroad  ever  had 
a  better  time  schedule.  At  the  intersection  of  Carrollton  and 
Claiborne  Avenues,  people  say:  'It  must  be  about  eight  o'clock. 
There's  Charlie!' 

Icecream  vendors  are,  of  course,  popular,  too.  They  usually 
ride  bicycles  to  which  a  box  containing  their  cream  is  attached, 
though  many  use  a  pushcart  arrangement  or  drive  a  wagon. 
Most  ring  a  bell  instead  of  calling  out.  However,  Arthur  Hay- 
ward  cries:  'Ha!  Ha!  Here  comes  Arthur!  Mamma,  that's  the 
man!"  Arthur  has  even  advertised  in  the  Personal  Columns  of 
New  Orleans  newspapers  as  follows : 

A  well  known  man  by  the  name  of  Arthur  Hayward,  better 
known  as  the1  Ha  Ha  man.  He  has  his  new  Aeroplane.  He  will 
be  out  Sunday.  Mother,  look  for  him.  That's  the  man  they 
call  Ha  Ha,  all  the  school  children's  friend.  Mother,  that's 
him  going  up  Magazine  Ave.  Mother,  that's  him.  Now  he's 
on  Laurel  St.,  Mother,  sitting  in  his  new  aeroplane. 


4  8  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Mexicans  sell  hot  tamales  from  white  pushcarts  at  many  inter- 
sections in  the  residential  neighborhoods.  All  Orleanians  know 
the  vendor  of  chewing  gum  who  extends  five  packages  on  five 
wire  prongs,  crying  incessantly,  '  GUMGUMGUMGUMGUMGUM- 
GUMGUMGUMGUM  .  . . '  and  who  consequently  has  earned  the 
name  of  Gumgumgum.  On  the  banquette  before  auction  sales 
there  is  always  a  colored  man  or  boy  who  beats  a  drum  to  attract 
attention  —  Boom!  Boom!  Boom!  Boom!  —  ad  infinitum. 
This  custom,  old  as  the  city,  continues  unchanged.  One  of  Fre- 
meaux'  sketches  published  in  1876  —  an  aged  Negro  beating  a 
drum  just  outside  such  a  sale  —  might  almost  have  been  drawn 
today. 

Spasm  bands,  composed  of  small  Negro  boys  using  makeshift 
instruments,  who  tap-dance  and  'put  it  on*  for  pedestrians,  are 
often  seen  in  the  streets  of  the  Vieux  Carre.  They  run  behind 
strollers  and,  catching  up,  immediately  go  into  violent  twistings 
and  contortions,  accompanied  by  pleas  of  '  Gimme  a  penny, 
Mister!  Gimme  a  nickel,  Mister!'  Some  do  their  dances  with- 
out any  musical  accompaniment  at  all,  and  some  of  the  dances 
are  definitely  individual. 

In  the  French  Quarter  cafes  and  bars  peddlers  offer  hardboiled 
eggs  and  stuffed  crabs.  There  is  an  ancient  Chinaman  who  some- 
times appears  with  stuffed  crabs,  at  other  times  with  pralines, 
and  who  is  said  to  play  poker  with  every  nickel  he  earns.  On 
the  banquettes  the  'one-man  band'  attracts  attention  with  his 
ability  to  keep  drum,  cymbals,  banjo  and  harmonica  all  going  at 
the  same  time.  And  late  at  night  in  one  club  or  another,  Madame 
St.  Martin,  the  Creole  flower  vendor,  will  sell  you  an  old- 
fashioned  nosegay  of  sword  fern,  cashmere  bouquet  and  Louis 
Philippe  roses. 

But  the  best  known  of  all  French  Quarter  characters  today  is 
Banjo  Annie,  who,  dirty  and  ragged  and  drunken,  in  a  costume 
that  often  includes  two  torn  dresses  and  a  man's  cap,  trails  her 
way  from  bar  to  bar  muttering  to  herself  or  shouting  invectives 
at  the  bartenders  who  will  have  none  of  her  playing  and  singing. 

The  vendors  of  Lottery  tickets  always  do  a  thriving  business, 
and  so  do  the  gentlemen  who  linger  in  shadowy  doorways  or  in 
front  of  barrooms  to  inform  you  that  there  is  '  a  little  game  goin' 


Street  Criers  -49 

on  in  the  back/  If  you  stand  at  one  of  the  cheaper  bars  other 
men  will  approach  and  whisper  invitations  in  your  ears  to  pur- 
chase such  merchandise  as  razor  blades  or  shoestrings,  combs  or 
contraceptives. 

Thus  the  street  vendors  can  satisfy  practically  every  need.  As 
the  barroom  peddlers  supply  the  equipment  for  certain  entertain- 
ment, so  do  taxicab  drivers  in  the  Vieux  Carre  supply  the  means, 
calling  out  —  and  in  no  whispers  -  '  Wanta  see  some  girls  to- 
night, buddy?  How  about  some  pretty  girls  tonight?' 


5o  Chapter  3 


The  Irish  Channel 


'THE  CHANNEL  WAS  SORT  OF  EXCITING  AT  TIMES, 
but  we  never  had  no  killings/  says  Jennie  Green  McDonald, 
rather  indignantly.  'It  was  just  a  real  cosmopolitan  neighbor- 
hood, except  for  a  few  Italians.  And  I  ought  to  know!  My 
grandfather,  Patrick  Green,  come  from  Ireland  in  1840  and  he 
settled  right  in  the  Irish  Channel.  Sure,  and  what  in  the  name  of 
Heaven  would  he  be  doing  settling  any  place  else?  To  think  I 
am  the  last  Irisher  left  in  the  Irish  Channel!' 

And  that  is  Mrs.  McDonald's  distinction.  She  and  her  family 
are  actually  the  last  of  the  Irish  in  that  famous  (or  infamous;  it  is 
definitely  a  matter  of  opinion)  neighborhood.  This,  of  course,  is 
splitting  hairs  a  bit,  and  the  statement  will  be  denied  with  heat 
such  as  probably  only  the  Irish  are  capable  of  generating.  The 
fine  point  will  certainly  be  argued  and  temperaments  flare,  if  you 
make  the  statement  in  that  section  of  New  Orleans  bounded  by 
Magazine  Street,  the  river,  Jackson  Avenue  and  Felicity  Street. 
There  will  be  those  who  agree  and  those  who  will  not,  and,  even 
at  this  late  date,  Irish  confetti  may  fly.  Nevertheless,  she  speaks 
the  truth,  does  Jennie  Green  McDonald. 

The  trouble  is  all  in  the  difference  of  opinion  as  to  where  the 


The  Irish  Channel  —  /  / 

Irish  Channel  is  —  or  was.  The  average  Orleanian  will  probably 
testify  to  some  such  borders  as  those  given  above.  He  may  even 
go  farther  and  extend  it  uptown  as  far  as  Louisiana  Avenue,  some 
fifteen  blocks.  But  even  if  conservative  he  will  certainly  include 
more  than  a  hundred  city  squares.  Actually  the  Irish  Channel 
was  only  one  small  street,  properly  named  Adele  Street,  that  ran 
but  two  blocks,  from  St.  Thomas  to  Tchoupitoulas  Streets,  and 
lay  between  Josephine  and  St.  Andrew  Streets.  Today  this  Adele 
Street  is  inhabited  almost  entirely  by  Negroes,  so  that  the  Irish 
Channel  no  longer  exists  at  all. 

But  not  so  long  ago  it  was  one  of  the  most  interesting  parts  of 
the  city,  with  a  way  of  life  and  a  character  contrasting  violently 
with  Creole  New  Orleans.  As  a  matter  of  fact  in  its  beginning  it 
was  not  in  New  Orleans  at  all,  but  in  what  James  Renshaw,  in 
the  Louisiana  Historical  Review.,  January,  1919,  called  '  the  lost 
city  of  Lafayette.' 

There  are  at  least  two  beliefs  as  to  how  the  Irish  Channel 
earned  its  name.  One  story  is  that  at  Adele  Street  and  the  river, 
in  front  of  Noud's  Ocean  Home,  a  saloon  of  some  reputation, 
was  a  light,  and  that  Irish  seamen  coming  up  the  river  and  seeing 
the  light  exclaimed,  '  There's  the  Irish  Channel !'  Another  is  that 
Adele  Street  was  often  flooded  with  water.  Probably  the  truth 
is  that  it  was  simply  because  of  the  large  proportion  of  Irish 
inhabitants. 

The  earliest  records  of  Irish  in  New  Orleans  are  in  the  archives 
at  Seville,  where  the  names  of  hundreds  of  Irish  living  in  the  city 
during  the  Spanish  Domination  were  recorded.  Even  Don  Alex- 
ander O'Reilly  -  '  The  Bloody  O'Reilly'  —  second  Spanish  gov- 
ernor of  Louisiana  —  was  an  Irishman,  though  the  Irish  do  not 
admit  him,  but  blame  him  on  his  Spanish  rearing  and  environ- 
ment. An  accurate  estimate  of  how  many  Irish  settled  in  the 
Colony  prior  to  182.0  is  impossible,  since  New  World  ports  usu- 
ally lumped  Irish,  Scotch  and  English  immigrants  together  under 
the  term  'English,'  a  habit  the  Irish  must  have  resented!  We  do 
know  that  during  the  great  migrations  of  1846  and  1856,  after 
the  Irish  famines  left  Erin  with  scarcely  half  of  her  population, 
one-third  of  the  total  number  of  persons  entering  America  was 
from  that  country.  Accurate  records  show  that  between  1850 


/2  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

and  1860  the  Irish  ranked  first  among  Europeans  entering  the 
port  of  New  Orleans. 

Some  of  these  departed  the  city  quickly  for  such  towns  as 
Natchez  and  Bayou  Sara,  where  Irish  colonies  grew  in  size  and  in 
importance.  But  many  remained,  often  intermarrying  with  the 
Latin  Orleanians;  there  is  little  doubt  that  much  Irish  blood 
flows  in  Creole  veins.  Yet,  between  1840  and  1847  great  social 
prejudice  arose  against  the  Irish  in  New  Orleans,  and  a  tendency 
was  born  among  them  to  segregate  themselves  and  settle  in  a 
group.  Some  measure  of  this  prejudice  existed  all  over  the  coun- 
try during  that  era;  they  were  accused  of  being  radical,  of  sowing 
moral  contagion,  of  bringing  death  plagues  to  the  various  com- 
munities, of  abusing  and  ruining  civil  liberties,  even  of  being 
unclean. 

In  the  forties,  just  outside  the  closely  packed  city  of  New  Or- 
leans, there  were  a  number  of  towns  and  villages,  among  them 
DeLord,  Annunciation,  Foucher  and  Lafayette.  The  last,  by  far 
the  most  important,  was  actually  offering  competition  to  New 
Orleans,  and  boasted  of  wharves  lined  with  boats  and  a  thriving 
commerce.  Many  of  the  Irish  deserted  the  Creole  town  and 
found  work  in  Lafayette.  On  the  riverfront  they  wrested  em- 
ployment from  the  Negroes,  and  slave  labor  being  unable  to  com- 
pete with  the  more  skilled  labor,  the  slaves  were  sold  to  planta- 
tions. For  themselves,  the  Irish  seem  never  to  have  had  any  use 
for  slavery.  They  lived  simply  in  small  cottages  and  like  the 
Germans  made  their  own  hard-working  way.  There  was  great 
dislike  for  the  black  man.  As  late  as  the  period  of  the  first  World 
War  it  was  dangerous  for  a  Negro  to  walk  anywhere  near  the 
Irish  Channel,  though  this  was  partially  because  of  the  compe- 
tition between  them  for  work  on  the  river.  (In  the  end  the  black 
man  won  this  fight;  today  nearly  all  wharf  workers  are  Negroes.) 

After  the  Irish  settled  there  the  city  of  Lafayette  continued  to 
grow  and  prosper.  Cotton  presses,  slaughterhouses,  brick  kilns 
and  other  businesses  arose.  The  adjoining  towns  of  Annuncia- 
tion and  Livaudais  were  incorporated,  later  the  Faubourg  Del- 
lassize  was  added.  In  1844  the  boundaries  already  stretched  from 
Phillip  Street  to  Felicity  Road,  from  the  river  to  Nyades  Street 
(now  St.  Charles  Avenue).  The  corporate  life  of  Lafayette  was 


The  Irish  Channel  -53 

but  nineteen  years.  At  last  there  was  nothing  to  distinguish  it 
from  New  Orleans  but  an  imaginary  line  on  Felicity  Road.  In 
1852.  the  town  was  formally  annexed. 

But  the  city  was  less  Creole  now,  was  becoming  increasingly 
Anglo-Saxon.  The  prejudice  against  the  Irish  had  simmered 
down.  Still  the  Irish  kept  to  their  own  section.  Adele  Street 
and  its  vicinity  were  scrupulously  avoided  by  all  who  did  not 
live  there.  A  stranger  in  the  neighborhood  was  usually  greeted 
with  a  shower  of  bricks.  This  inhospitable  custom  became  so 
general  that  anyone  displaying  a  black  eye  or  a  bandaged  skull 
was  asked  if  he  'had  passed  through  the  Channel  lately.' 

Even  today  practically  every  local  prizefighter  claims  to  have 
been  reared  in  the  Irish  Channel.  Oldtimers  protest  angrily:  'If 
they  were  born  on  Constance  and  Fourth  Street,  twenty  blocks 
from  Adele  Street,  and  are  half  Dago  and  half  Swedish,  they  still 
claim  to  be  Irishmen  from  the  Irish  Channel.  That's  because 
Irish  Channel  and  fight  has  always  meant  the  same  thing.' 

Yet  not  all  the  residents  of  Adele  Street  were  Irish,  even  in  its 
heyday.  There  was  a  generous  mixture  of  German  families  with 
such  names  as  Weber  and  Mertzweiler  and  Sonnemeir.  But  they 
lived  in  peace  with  their  neighbors  and  seem  to  have  been  Irish 
in  sympathy  and  spirit,  to  have  mingled  with  them  as  one  race, 
and  to  have  fought  in  Irish  fights.  And,  of  course,  the  Irish 
spread  from  Adele  Street  all  throughout  the  section,  partially 
explaining  the  confusion  as  to  where  and  what  was  the  Irish 
Channel. 

Richard  A.  BranifF,  interviewed  just  before  his  recent  death, 
recalled  there  being  44  buildings  in  the  Channel,  consisting  of 
X4  double  and  9  single  cottages  of  low  structure;  there  were  only 
2.  two-storied  houses.  There  were  also  5  grocery  stores,  i  bar- 
room, a  rice  mill,  2.  cooper  shops  and  an  empty  lot.  Mike  Noud, 
'a  tall  and  handsome  Irishman,'  and  his  wife,  Mollie,  ran  the 
saloon,  Ocean  Home.  St.  Thomas  Street,  at  one  end  of  Adele 
Street,  gradually  became  settled  with  Irish,  too.  Tchoupitoulas 
Street,  at  the  other  end,  became  the  principal  business  thorough- 
fare during  the  1870*8,  and  was  lined  with  establishments  of  all 
sorts:  barrooms,  oyster  saloons,  furniture  stores,  barber  shops, 
lottery  shops,  tailors'  establishments,  pharmacies  and  wholesale 


$4  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

houses,  and  shoe,  dress,  cigar,  candy  and  confectionery  shops. 

Anthony  Cullen  still  lives  in  the  section  and  would  reside 
nowhere  else.  '  This  was  the  real  business  district  of  the  city, '  he 
said,  speaking  of  the  vicinity  of  Tchoupitoulas  and  North  Dia- 
mond Streets.  He  pointed  to  the  building  of  the  Bartlett  Chem- 
ical Company.  'That  was  the  Diamond  Hotel.  You  don't  have 
to  believe  me,  but  it  was  the  first  hotel  in  the  city.  Next  door 
(now  the  Dixie  Mill)  used  to  be  the  Jennie  Lind  Oyster  Bar,  and 
it  was  named  for  Jennie  Lind  because  she  used  to  come  out  here 
and  eat  oysters  every  day  she  spent  in  New  Orleans.  Feibleman's 
(New  Orleans'  Sears  Roebuck's  now)  was  right  on  Tchoupitoulas 
and  St.  Joseph.  That's  where  they  started  out  in  business. 
Everything  is  changed  completely  now.  It  wasn't  anything  like 
this!  You  wouldn't  recognize  it  as  the  same  neighborhood. 
There  were  lots  of  fine  homes,  they're  almost  all  gone  and  for- 
gotten now.' 

The  Daily  Delta,  July  10,  1861,  published  a  completely 
unvarnished  opinion  of  the  Irish  Channel,  stating:  'The  inhab- 
itants appear  for  the  most  part  to  be  an  intemperate  and  blood- 
thirsty set,  who  are  never  contented  unless  engaged  in  brawls, 
foreign  or  domestic  —  such  as  the  breaking  of  a  stranger's  pate 
or  the  blacking  of  a  loving  spouse's  eye.  These  are  the  ordinary 
amusements.' 

This  was  naturally  denied  with  his  usual  vigor  by  Channel 
champion  Richard  Braniff.  'The  Irish  Channel  always  bore  a 
wonderful  reputation  because  of  the  splendid  class  of  people  who 
lived  there,'  he  said.  'There  was  only  one  Irish  Channel  and 
there  will  never  be  another.' 

Jennie  Green  McDonald  adds  her  bit  with:  'Everything  was 
very  peaceable.  A  ship  would  come  in  loaded  with  German,  Rus- 
sian or  English  sailors,  and  the  boys  would  come  into  the  saloons 
and  of  course  get  into  a  fight.  But  our  boys  would  bring  'em 
right  home  for  a  clean  shirt  and  patch  up  where  they'd  been  cut 
or  hit  too  hard,  and  wash  all  the  blood  off  and  all.  Everything 
was  done  real  nice  and  quiet.  Never  no  killings,  just  like  I  told 
you.' 

'  People  get  all  mixed  up  when  they  talk  about  the  Irish  Chan- 
nel,' said  oldtimer  Gus  Laurer.  '  It  never  did  cover  all  the  streets 


&ife» 


rrw 


.: 


'-X«l. 


>  t 

*        -^ 


The  Rex  Parade  passing  the  St.  Charles  Hotel  on  Mardi  Gras 

Courtesy  of  New  Orleans  Item 


Adele  Street  is  the  heart  of  the  Irish  Channel 


'I'm    Irish    and    proud   of    it,"    says    Mrs.    Louise   Allen    of   St.    Thomas    Street. 
"We've  always  lived  here." 


( 


MMMr 


V 


/ 


i_ 

r* 


'Many  a  good  fight  have  I  seen,"  declares  Irish  Michael  Horn 


THE  MYSTERIOUS 


AXMAN'S  JAZZ 


If  JWEPH  JINI  OAVILLA 

Amkiot  oi  DM  No««d  Soplu*  Tucker 
Cooa  Nov«hy  Soog 

•tin-Mitel  Mr  lislMd.Yoi'n 


(DONT  SCARE  ME  PAPA) 


ri  -THE  T1MEVPICAYIJNC  ' 


Succe^ull,  Introduce  B,  ®0rl&  B 

Jostph  Giffflt  &  JWfH  Jon  Oiiilli  Publtahinq 

,~n.,..  -~- 


Cover  of  a  piece  of  sheet  music  of  the  Axeman's  Jazz  period 


The  Irish  Channel  —  /  / 

they  say.  A  Channel  links  two  bodies  of  water,  doesn't  it?  Well, 
the  Irish  Channel  is  right  here  —  that  little  Adele  Street,  run- 
ning from  Tchoupitoulas  to  St.  Thomas.  I  remember  when  there 
wasn't  nothing  but  Irish  on  it. 

'Sure,  and  they  had  a  reputation  as  fighters.  Did  you  ever 
know  as  when  an  Irishman  would  not  rather  fight  than  eat?  The 
gangs  were  the  worst,  especially  the  St.  Mary's  Market  Gang, 
the  Shot  Tower  Gang,  and  the  Crowbar  Gang.  But  it  wasn't  all 
fights  and  gangs.  People  in  the  Channel  made  good  money  then. 
Stevedores  and  longshoremen  were  well  paid  and  they  lived  on 
the  fat  of  the  land.  Now  it's  different.  When  they  get  a  dollar 
they  go  run  to  start  buying  something  on  time.  Every  Monday 
morning  the  woodpeckers  are  out  here.  Knock-knock-knock! 
Knock-knock-knock!  Everybody  out  here  calls  the  collectors 
the  woodpeckers.  My  God,  but  this  neighborhood  has  changed ! 
Especially  with  the  new  government  housing  slums.  What  in 
the  name  of  the  saints  is  going  to  happen  when  all  those  Irishers 
get  cooped  up  together  in  those  apartments?  You  talk  about  an 
Irish  fight!  Wait  until  they  get  started  one  day.' 

Sitting  on  the  stoop  before  his  modest  home,  seventy-one- 
year-old  Gus  Laurer  folded  his  hands  over  his  cane  and  rested  his 
chin  on  them,  his  eyes  twinkling  in  the  hot  sun.  '  We  had  more 
fun  in  the  old  days  than  the  young  people  do  now,'  he  contended. 
'  Then  we  had  horse-cars  —  that  was  back  in  '78  or  '88  —  I  don't 
recall  which.  We  would  ride  down  St.  Charles  Avenue  to  Canal 
and  Baronne  Streets  —  there  was  a  turntable  there  —  and  then 
ride  back  up,  all  the  way  to  Carrollton.  There  was  one  line  out 
Magazine  Street  we  called  the  ' '  Snake  Trail"  because  it  turned  so 
much.  We  had  no  moving  pictures,  but  we  went  to  the  opera 
and  the  theatre.  We  danced  at  Delachies'  Picnic  Grounds,  Hop- 
per's Garden,  and  the  Washington  Artillery  Hall.  There  were 
benches  on  the  levees  and  we'd  go  walking  out  there  with  our 
girls,  and  on  Sunday  afternoons  we'd  sit  and  watch  the  boats 
passing  up  and  down  the  river.  We  used  to  have  big  times  at  old 
Spanish  Fort.  We  took  a  train  to  get  there;  the  fare  was  fifteen 
cents.  Sometimes  we'd  go  out  to  Milneburg,  too.  Then  we  had 
to  ride  the  old  ' '  Smoky  Mary. ' '  Don't  take  my  word  for  it,  but 
some  people  say  that  was  the  second  train  in  the  United  States.' 


/  6  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

A  Negress  passed  with  two  big  market  baskets,  one  on  each 
arm,  crying,  'Blackberries!  BlackBERRIEEES!' 

'Go  on  with  you!'  said  Mr.  Laurer.  'I  don't  want  any  nigger 
in  a  blanket  today.  That's  what  I  call  blackberries  and  cream. 
That  looks  just  like  niggers  in  a  blanket,  doesn't  it?' 

Asked  about  the  Channel  in  other  days,  Mrs.  Placement  re- 
plied calmly  that  as  far  as  she  could  recall  all  the  inhabitants 
were  '  lovely  people.'  She  admitted  that  there  '  were  some  fights, 
but  nothing  real  serious,  or  if  there  was,  we  women  didn't  know 
it.  We  raised  big  families  then,  stayed  home  and  did  all  our  work 
and  minded  our  own  business.  We  hardly  went  nowhere  except 
to  wakes.' 

Mrs.  Placement  mentioned  that  like  the  Creoles  when  an  Irish 
Channel  colleen  was  wed  she  remained  unseen  for  several  weeks. 
'  And  when  they  was  pregnant,'  she  said,  '  they  had  some  decency 
and  did  not  boldly  show  their  condition.  They  would  wait  until 
after  dark  to  walk  around.  Now  as  soon  as  they  find  it  out  they 
holler  loud  enough  to  be  heard  two  blocks:  "Oh,  Mrs.  O'Brien, 
what  do  you  think?  I'm  going  to  have  a  baby!"  And  the  brazen 
things  flounce  downtown  to  shows  and  everywhere.  Sometimes 
when  I  see  'em  on  the  street  I  say  to  myself:  ' '  I  will  be  surprised 
if  they  get  home  in  time!" 

Michael  Myers  and  Honnes  Hahn  are  old  cronies  who  spend 
their  days  in  rocking  chairs  on  the  banquette  before  their  homes  on 
Rousseau  Street  near  Adele.  They  sit  and  rock  and  talk  of  the 
'auld  times,'  and  when  the  sun  reaches  their  spot  they  quietly 
shift  to  the  shade  of  a  house  or  a  tree.  They  admit  the  neighbor- 
hood was  tough. 

The  Crowbar  Gang  and  the  Pine  Knot  Gang  operated  right 
here  in  Rousseau  Street,  and  they  well  remember  both  collections 
of  brawling  Irishmen.  'However,'  said  Michael,  'there  was 
seldom  a  murder.  But  if  strangers  come  around  here,  they  would 
be  asked:  "What  in  the  hell  do  you  want?"  If  they  did  not  an- 
swer quickly,  they  would  have  to  be  carried  back  to  the  other 
side  of  Magazine  Street.  The  toughest  spot  was  the  corner  of 
St.  Mary  and  Religious  Streets.  There  was  three  murders  on  that 
corner.' 

Michael  and  Honnes  both  knew  the  Dallio  boys  well.    They 


The  Irish  Channel  —  /  7 

were  notorious  petty  criminals,  who  later  went  big  time,  robbed 
a  bank  and  shot  a  guard  to  death.  'They  lived  right  here  at 
St.  Thomas  and  St.  Mary,'  Honnes  divulged.  'Their  mother  ran 
a  saloon  and  people  said  she  sold  dope  to  school  children.'  One 
of  the  Dallio  boys  was  killed  by  the  police  while  trying  to  escape 
from  a  patrol  wagon.  The  other  was  hanged. 

The  Bucket  of  Blood  Saloon,  on  the  corner  of  Rousseau  and 
St.  Mary,  was  a  popular  rendezvous  for  the  more  virile  males  of 
the  Channel.  Rat  Tooth  Flynn  was  one  of  the  most  violent  cus- 
tomers, but  Rat  Tooth  met  his  destiny  swiftly.  It  seems  that  one 
of  his  pals,  a  certain  Foley,  robbed  a  store,  and  that  the  unscrupu- 
lous Rat  Tooth  nonchalantly  broke  the  law  of  their  particular 
jungle  and  'stooled*  on  him.  Thereupon  Foley  met  Rat  Tooth 
and  chased  him  from  the  environs  of  the  Bucket  of  Blood  to 
Magazine  Street,  forced  him  to  do  a  maypole  dance  around  a 
telephone  post,  and  'blasted  him  to  hell.'  Shortly  afterward 
Foley  followed  him  from  the  gallows. 

There  are  many  little  folk-tales  regarding  the  gangs  who  gave 
the  Channel  a  generous  portion  of  its  notoriety.  One  of  the  live- 
liest of  these  groups  was  the  St.  Mary's  Market  Gang.  It  is 
easily  remembered  when  it  was  foolhardy  to  pass  the  St.  Mary 
Market  after  dusk.  Even  the  police  dared  not  enter  that  vicinity 
at  night.  Some  will  assert  there  were  no  killings,  but  others 
disagree.  One  gray  morning,  from  a  hook  where  a  beef  carcass 
was  usually  suspended,  hung  a  bulky  canvas  bag.  Inside  was  the 
corpse  of  a  sailor. 

Jim  Dolehan  remembers  that  incident  and  others.  'The  St. 
Mary's  Market  crowd  was  the  only  gang  out  here  that  ever  got 
into  serious  trouble,'  he  said.  ' There  was  the  time  they  shot  and 
killed  Sergeant  Fitzpatrick,  the  Negro  policeman,  who  had  his 
beat  in  that  section.  Of  course  the  Irish  resented  having  a  Negro 
policing  their  neighborhood,  but  the  Sergeant  was  a  fine  fellow 
and  lots  of  people  liked  him.  That  was  in  August,  1892..  You 
know,  there  was  only  one  shot  fired,  and  the  man  who  fired  it  is 
still  walking  around  free,  though  lots  of  innocent  men  were 
arrested.  That  was  one  mystery  that  was  never  solved.' 

On  August  9,  1 89X5  the  Times  Democrat  carried  an  article  about 
the  St.  Mary  Market  and  about  another  colored  policeman  as- 
tigned  to  the  beat: 


/  8  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Officer  Moore,  a  colored  officer,  during  his  term  of  duty  on 
the  St.  Mary's  Market  beat  has  made  things  decidedly  warm 
for  the  unruly  hoodlums  who  hang  around  the  market.  One  of 
the  policemen  remarked  last  night, '  This  is  a  good  place  to  put 
a  man  if  he  is  wanted  killed. '  In  order  to  give  a  proper  concep- 
tion of  the  locality  of  the  shooting  and  the  means  of  assassi- 
nating an  officer  it  is  but  necessary  to  say  that  St.  Mary's  Mar- 
ket, in  the  western  wing  of  which  the  shooting  took  place,  is 
one  of  the  most  notorious  hard  beats  in  the  city.  The  market 
is  the  rendezvous  of  crooks  of  the  most  daring  characters  who 
hang  around  the  darkened  recesses  of  the  place  and  waylay 
pedestrians  who  have  the  temerity  to  pass  that  way.  The  mar- 
ket proper  is  without  a  light  of  any  kind,  save  at  the  lower  end 
where  the  rays  of  a  couple  of  incandescent  lights  at  the  coffee 
stand  afford  poor  illumination.  The  gang  which  infests  the 
market  has  long  been  the  cause  of  uneasiness  to  the  people  and 
has  succeeded  in  giving  the  officers  no  end  of  trouble. 

'  The  other  gangs  used  to  beat  hell  out  of  people  walking  in 
the  Channel.  They  just  resented  outsiders.  Sometimes  they'd 
steal  a  little  bit,  but  most  of  the  time  it  was  to  give  to  the  poor. 
There  was  the  Ripsaw  Gang  operating  on  Erato  and  Constance, 
the  Danites  around  the  Magazine  Market,  the  Mackerels  at  Cal- 
liope and  Magazine,  the  Crowbar  and  the  Shot  Tower  Gangs. 
Oh,  plenty  of  'em!  The  boys  would  jump  on  a  train  loaded  with 
coal  and  throw  pieces  of  it  off;  then  they'd  bring  all  that  coal  to 
the  poor.  Of  course,  they'd  beat  hell  out  of  anybody  walking  in 
their  territory,  and  sometimes  the  gangs  would  war  on  each 
other  or  with  them  downtown  Sockserhausers.'  This  from 
Harry  Nelson. 

Gus  Laurer  believes  that,  despite  all  the  gangs,  conditions 
were  better  than  now.  'You  didn't  have  the  real  serious  crime 
like  now,'  he  said.  'It  was  all  good  clean  fighting.  We  kept  the 
niggers  and  other  people  who  didn't  belong  out  of  the  Channel 
and  we  made  the  bastards  on  the  riverfront  pay  us  good  money.' 

Even  the  women  of  the  Channel  seem  to  have  indulged  in  a 
little  roughhouse  occasionally.  'A  furious  female  named  Mary 
O'Brien,'  states  a  writeup  in  the  Daily  Delta,  July  3,  1861  — 
'  one  of  the  wild  women  of  St.  Thomas  Street  —  was  last  night 


The  Irish  Channel  —  /  p 

arrested  for  attacking  and  seriously  wounding  her  neighbor, 
Ellen  McGuire,  with  a  hatchet,  with  a  view  to  terminating  her 
existence.'  The  Delta  goes  on  to  explain  how  it  was  all  over  a 
stalwart  Channel  youth,  and  that  Mary  went  to  jail  for  quite  a 
spell. 

Mrs.  Curry,  a  quiet,  middle-aged  woman,  has  charge  of  the 
Public  Bath  on  St.  Mary  Street.  Not  a  native  of  the  vicinity,  but 
from  a  more  placid  neighborhood,  she  sees  it  all  quite  objec- 
tively. 'This  has  always  been  a  rough  section,'  she  said.  'It 
always  will  be.  Even  today  there  is  plenty  of  drinking  and 
fighting.  I  tried  to  rent  a  room  upstairs  over  the  baths,  as  I  live 
here  alone  and  would  prefer  to  have  someone  in  the  house  with 
me,  but  no  one  I  would  have  will  ever  rent  it.  They're  all  afraid 
of  the  neighborhood.' 

Richard  Braniff  explained  how  some  of  the  gangs  earned  their 
names.  The  Shot  Tower  Gang  was  so-called,  according  to  Bran- 
iff, because  they  always  gathered  near  a  'shot  tower'  in  the 
Channel  —  a  place  where  lead  shot  was  manufactured.  The 
Crowbar  Gang  used  crowbars  to  pry  open  windows  and  doors 
when  necessary  to  do  so.  Most  of  the  others  possessed  appella- 
tions that  referred  to  the  sections  in  which  they  lived. 

But  life  was  not  all  gangs  and  fightings. 

By  the  time  of  incorporation  with  New  Orleans,  Lafayette  had 
become  a  city  of  striking  contrasts.  The  rear  section  around 
Chestnut,  Prytania  and  Nyades  Streets  was  filled  with  the  resi- 
dences of  prosperous  merchants  and  cotton  speculators.  There 
were  brick  sidewalks  and  formal  gardens.  This  neighborhood 
is  still  known  as  the  '  Garden  District'  throughout  New  Orleans. 
Even  in  the  vicinity  of  Annunciation  Square,  close  to  the  Chan- 
nel, there  were  many  fine  homes,  though  the  Square  was  a  hang- 
out for  the  gangs,  who  regularly  smashed  benches  and  com- 
mitted other  vandalism.  Yet  the  owners  of  these  mansions  re- 
mained in  the  environment  for  years,  driving  forth  in  their  car- 
riages to  the  awe  of  the  poorer  Irish,  submitting  to  the  surrepti- 
tious peeping  of  Irish  boys,  who  climbed  fences  and  sneaked 
looks  through  windows,  staring  at  the  butlers  and  other  serv- 
ants —  at  a  family  like  the  Ryans,  themselves  of  Erin,  who 
maintained  a  staff  of  eight  household  servants  and  lived,  in  the 


60  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

eyes  of  the  Channel  inhabitants,  an  existence  of  absolute  elegance 
-  at  the  Bresslins,  whose  eighty-five-thousand-dollar  home 
was  furnished  in  all  the  magnificence  of  the  era,  including  gilt 
and  crystal  chandeliers,  huge  family  portraits  in  oils  and  antique 
furniture  resplendent  with  gilt,  in  the  tradition  of  the  day. 

Conditions  were  different  immediately  around  the  Channel. 
Few  of  the  streets  were  anything  but  mud.  Filthy  water  flowed 
through  the  gutters  and  there  was  little  street  lighting,  practi- 
cally no  sewerage  or  drainage.  All  drinking  water  was  obtained 
from  cisterns.  Butchers  then  slaughtered  their  own  meat,  and 
along  the  riverfront  were  numerous  slaughterhouses  —  the  cat- 
tle pens  were  at  the  foot  of  St.  Mary  Street  —  and  the  whole 
neighborhood  reeked  with  a  fearful  stench.  Every  once  in  a 
while  the  cattle  would  escape  the  pens  and  stampede,  invading 
yards  and  even  the  houses  of  the  residents.  James  Renshaw  in  his 
article  in  the  Louisiana  Historical  Review,  already  mentioned,  tells 
how  bulldogs  were  trained  to  take  a  grip  on  the  head  of  stubborn 
cattle,  forcing  them  into  obedience.  A  Mrs.  Hogan  made  pin 
money  by  always  keeping  a  mule  which  she  would  rent  to  the 
city  from  time  to  time,  to  be  used  for  the  purpose  of  pulling 
dump  carts.  Occasionally,  as  it  must  to  all,  death  came  to  the 
mule,  and  on  these  tragic  instances  neighborhood  children  would 
gather  in  Mrs.  Hogan 's  backyard  to  'ride'  the  dead  mule  and 
play  at  other  games  in  which  the  cadaver  might  take  part.  Irish 
Channel  children  found  much  diversion,  too,  'swimming'  in  the 
gutters  after  a  heavy  rain  —  or  in  riding  street  posts  through  the 
water-filled  gutters  —  often  such  posts  lay  about  awaiting 
erection. 

Yet,  despite  all  this,  Henry  C.  Castellanous  in  his  New  Orleans, 
As  It  Was,  speaks  of  the  section  as  being  'pretty.'  According  to 
him,  orange  trees  and  gardens  grew  in  many  of  the  yards,  and 
a  low  levee  planted  with  willow  trees  ran  along  Tchoupitoulas 
Street.  All  cross  streets  in  those  days  ran  to  the  river's  edge. 

Money  was  plentiful.  Irish  longshoremen  and  stevedores  were 
well  paid.  Screwmen  —  who  'screwed'  or  packed  the  cotton 
into  the  ship's  hold  —  sometimes  received  as  much  as  twenty- 
five  dollars  a  day.  The  section  abounded  with  saloons  and  gam- 
bling halls  where  the  rivermen  spent  the  money  as  quickly  as 


The  Irish  Channel  —  61 

they  made  it.  Noud's  Ocean  Home,  the  Bucket  of  Blood  and 
Bull's  Head  Saloon  thrived  and  prospered.  There  was  an  entire 
group  of  gambling  places  near  the  St.  Mary's  Market.  Every 
Sunday  afternoon  cockfights  attracted  crowds  and  the  owners 
of  the  prize  roosters  could  be  seen  strutting  through  the  streets, 
as  proudly  as  would  the  fowls  they  carried. 

Quoits  were  played  in  open  lots,  the  binders  used  to  strengthen 
timbers  being  used  as  rings.  Night  watchmen  paraded  the 
streets  at  night  with  'rattles'  in  an  ineffectual  effort  to  suppress 
crime.  A  major  diversion  was  when  the  Sockserhausers  journeyed 
uptown  to  some  place  like  the  Bull's  Head  Saloon  to  meet  one  of 
the  Irish  Channel  gangs  in  a  free-for-all.  The  fame  of  the  Irish 
grew,  particularly  as  fighters  and  drinkers,  and  it  is  said  that  the 
average  Irishman  washed  down  each  of  his  five  daily  meals  with 
whiskey. 

But  there  were  sturdy  family  men  on  Adele  and  the  near-by 
streets.  On  Saturday  nights  and  on  Sunday  afternoons  groups 
and  families  would  picnic  at  the  Orange  Grove  Picnic  Grounds 
located  at  Upperline  and  Laurel  Streets,  or  at  Shey's  Backyard  at 
Carrollton  and  St.  Charles. 

Families  were  large  and  housewives  cooked  plenty  of  whole- 
some —  if  coarse  —  food.  Stews,  cornbeef  and  cabbage,  potato 
pancakes,  red  beans  and  rice  were  eaten  during  most  of  the  week. 
On  Sundays  there  would  be  a  huge  spread,  usually  including 
roast  turkey  or  chicken.  In  those  days  the  Irishwoman  returning 
from  market  would  be  certain  that  the  feet  or  the  tail  feathers  of 
her  fowl  protruded  from  the  bag  she  carried,  so  the  neighbors 
would  know  she  could  afford  turkey  or  chicken.  Others  dis- 
played the  corpse  of  the  deceased  bird  in  the  window  for  the  same 
reason.  The  very  poor,  not  to  be  outdone,  would  frequently  steal 
some  feathers  from  a  market  or  a  neighbor's  garbage  pail  and 
march  down  their  street  with  the  feathers  showing  from  their 
package  of  groceries.  In  holiday  seasons  peddlers  drove  turkeys 
and  geese  through  the  streets,  offering  them  for  sale,  with  riotous 
noise  and  effect. 

Harry  Nelson  remembered  many  of  the  Channel  oddities.  '  The 
real  Channel  —  Adele  Street  —  was  inhabited  by  all  respectable 
families,'  he  said.  ' It  was  the  riverfront  saloons  that  gave  it  the 


62  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

bad  name.  There  were  so  many  of  those  places  —  Mike  Noud's 
Ocean  Home,  the  Bull's  Head  Tavern,  the  Isle  of  Man,  Tom  Bar- 
low's place  at  Tchoupitoulas  and  St.  Andrew.  Then  there  was 
that  social  hall  —  the  Hammerling  —  my  father  kept  a  store 
right  next  to  it  back  in  1876.  Kids  had  lots  of  good  games  and 
clean  fun  then.  We  swam  in  the  gutters  and  in  the  river.  Some- 
times the  cops  chased  us  and  I'd  run  all  the  way  to  Adele  Street 
naked  as  the  day  I  was  born. 

'Some  people  called  Adele  Street  "Goat's  Alley"  and  it  was 
always  filled  with  goats.  Every  family  in  the  Channel  had  four 
or  five  goats. 

'Talk  about  parades!  The  screwmen  paraded  every  2.5th  of 
November  and  we  really  had  a  turnout.  There 'd  be  flags  and 
banners  strung  all  over  the  streets.  The  marchers  wore  long 
black  coats  like  preachers,  doeskin  pants,  high  silk  hats  and 
blue  aprons  with  silver  fringe.  And  they  always  had  on  big 
"regalias"  —  them  was  sashes  about  a  foot  wide  that  went  over 
the  left  shoulder  and  tied  around  the  body,  hanging  almost  to  the 
ground  on  the  right  side.  Every  year  the  screwmen  gave  a  big 
ball.  Tickets  were  one  dollar  for  gents,  ladies  by  invitation. 
And  you  had  to  be  somebody  to  get  in !  No  hard  characters 
allowed.  The  Irish  gals  were  a  week  getting  their  hair  "tilted 
up"  and  their  clothes  fixed.  A  man  in  full  dress  always  met  you 
at  the  door  and  he'd  give  the  lady  a  hand-painted  program  with 
a  silk  tassel  holding  a  little  pencil.  And  they  would  stand  for  no 
fighting  at  them  affairs.  They'd  throw  you  out  on  your  behind. ' 

The  Sunnyside  Saloon  on  Tchoupitoulas  Street  was  a  favorite 
hangout  for  Irish  Channel  athletes.  Amateurs  would  always  be 
glad  to  fight  for  the  benefit  of  any  group  who  would  collect  a 
hundred  dollars  or  more.  Besides  boxing  and  cockfights,  the 
Irish  loved  dog  fights,  and  champions  were  developed,  some  of 
which  had  names  oldtimers  can  still  remember.  Richard  Braniff 
told  of  a  battle  between  two  dogs.  "Tiger"  was  the  champ,' 
he  said.  'The  challenger  was  called  "Napoleon  Jack."  When 
the  fight  started  Tiger  was  so  slow  it  looked  like  Napoleon  Jack 
was  going  to  clean  him  up  for  a  while.  Then  Tiger  went  over  in 
the  corner  and  got  rid  of  some  big  chunks  of  meat,  came  back 
and  whipped  hell  out  of  that  other  hound.  Someone  had  fed  the 
champion  a  big  meal  so  he  wouldn't  be  able  to  fight.' 


The  Irish  Channel  —  6  $ 

Mr.  BranifF  also  remembered  that  'John  L.  Sullivan  trained  at 
the  Carrollton  Gardens  and  he  used  a  bag  of  river  sand  for  a 
punching  bag.  He  could  hit  that  thing  to  the  ceiling  and  they 
didn't  use  gloves  in  those  days.  No  women  were  allowed  in 
prizefights,  but  I  remember  one  time  one  dressed  like  a  man  and 
sneaked  in.  However,  they  caught  her  and  threw  her  out.' 

All  Channel  bars  —  as  did  most  others  —  had  free-lunch 
counters,  and  the  Channel  bars  offered  free  smoking.  There 
would  be  a  huge  jar  of  tobacco  at  each  end  of  the  bar,  and  when 
a  customer  wanted  to  smoke,  the  bartender  would  reach  down 
and  extract  a  clay  pipe  with  a  long  stem  and  give  it  to  him,  invit- 
ing him  to  help  himself  to  tobacco. 

'Of  course  there  was  plenty  of  lottery/  said  Mr.  BranifF. 
'There  was  Charles  Howard's  big  drawing  every  month  at  the 
old  Academy  of  Music,  with  a  capital  prize  of  seventy-five  thou- 
sand dollars.  When  the  women  went  marketing  they  always 
stopped  and  bought  their  lottery  tickets.  That  ain't  changed 
much!' 

Girls,  he  said,  were  raised  very  strictly.  'If  a  girl  ever  got 
fooled  by  a  boy  it  was  too  bad.  She'd  just  have  to  go  right  down 
in  the  red-light  district  then  and  there.  Nobody  ever  forgave  her 
and  as  far  as  her  family  was  concerned  she  was  dead.  But  if  a 
boy  just  got  a  little  rakish  with  a  girl  and  she'd  go  home  and  tell 
her  old  man,  he  or  her  brothers  would  beat  hell  out  of  him.  Boys 
couldn't  date  girls  at  all  like  they  do  now.  When  I  took  a  girl 
out  once  she  was  my  girl,  and  if  another  boy  asked  to  take  her 
out  he'd  have  to  fight  me  and  lick  me  first.' 

Perhaps  Irish  wakes  belong  in  the  front  row  as  far  as  enter- 
tainment was  concerned.  Corpses  were  often  waked  two  or 
three  nights,  and  practically  the  entire  Channel  attended  each 
wake.  There  would  always  be  food,  whiskey  and  clay  pipes  for 
all. 

All  pictures  and  mirrors  were  covered  as  soon  as  a  person 
died,  and  clocks  were  stopped.  Mrs.  Placement  added  that  'a 
pan  of  water  with  a  loaf  of  bread  in  it  was  always  put  under  the 
corpse  to  keep  down  the  smell  and  camphor  was  kept  freshened 
around.' 

'Everything  they  say  about  Irish  wakes  is  true,'  vowed  Harry 


64  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Nelson.  '  There  was  plenty  of  drinking  and  smoking  out  of  those 
long  clay  pipes  with  shag  tobacco;  and  the  only  singing  was 
when  they  got  to  crying,  and  it  was  almost  like  a  tune,  that 
famous  Irish  Cry!  The  widow  \vould  say:  "Oh,  Michael,  why 
did  you  lave  me?  Oh-o-eee-oh!"  That's  the  way  it  sounded. 
You  see,  it's  easy  for  the  Irish  to  cry.  Their  bladders  is  right  in 
their  throats.  They'd  put  money  on  the  corpse's  eyes  and  some 
people  would  steal  it  when  they  knelt  to  pray  by  the  coffin.  If 
the  dead  person  belonged  to  an  organization  they'd  turn  out  and 
march . ' 

'  They'd  have  a  feast  that  night,'  James  McGooey  remembered, 
not  without  nostalgia.  'People  would  come  from  all  over  the 
city,  especially  them  German  Sockserhausers  from  ' '  way  down- 
town." Everybody 'd  go  on  into  the  parlor  and  look  at  the 
corpse  and  say  fine  things,  though  some  of  'em  had  never  seen 
the  man  when  he  was  alive.  Then  they'd  go  out  in  the  back- 
yard, get  drunk  and  fill  their  bellies  with  food.  One  night  we 
got  wise  to  one  gang  from  downtown  what  was  always  coming 
up  to  our  wakes  and  we  followed  them  down  and  beat  hell  out 
of 'em.  It  was  a  downright  satisfaction,  I  tell  you.  Their  leader 
was  an  Irishman  in  this  case,  you  see,  and  they  got  by  because 
he'd  come  in  and  cry  and  talk  to  the  widow  and  pat  her  hand 
just  like  an  old  friend.  That  fight  was  a  wonder!  We  was  all 
beat  to  a  whisper,  but  they  was  worse.  They  stopped  pulling 
that  wake  racket  from  then  on.  Later  when  the  Channel  got 
soft  I  came  to  be  friends  with  some  of  them.  You'd  be  surprised 
if  I  told  you  who  they  was.  One  is  the  president  of  a  big  whole- 
sale house,  another  is  a  big  shot  in  a  bank,  several  others  are 
politicians,  and  one  runs  one  of  the  best  saloons  in  the  business 
district.  And  there  they  was!  I  guess  they  was  all  fine  lads,  just 
after  the  free  food  and  liquor.  We  always  served  the  best  whis- 
key in  town  at  wakes  in  the  Irish  Channel,  you  see.' 

Mrs.  P.  J.  Donegan,  who  operates  a  funeral  parlor  on  Jackson 
Avenue,  remembers  hearing  the  Irish  Cry  only  twice.  'There 
was  a  death  in  the  house  next  to  us,'  she  said.  'I  heard  "Oh-o- 
eee-oh!"  I  thought  it  was  a  dog  howling  at  first,  then  I  realized 
it  was  the  widow  next  door  keening  —  giving  the  Irish  Cry.  The 
other  time  my  husband  was  sitting  out  on  the  front  steps  and  a 


The  Irish  Channel  —  6f 

woman  who  had  just  lost  her  husband  came  and  sat  next  to  him, 
and  began  her  keening.  Every  once  in  a  while  she'd  holler:  "Oh, 
Georgie,  why  did  you  lave  me?  My  Georgie!  My  Georgie! 
Why  did  you  lave  me?"  Then  she'd  go:  "Oh-o-ee-oh!  Oh-o- 
ee-oh !"  The  only  thing  was  her  keening  wasn't  so  good,  because 
she  was  sort  of  drunk. 

'  I  remember  one  time  a  man  died  and  he  was  so  swollen  they 
had  to  put  a  big  rock  on  his  stomach  as  he  lay  in  his  coffin.  They 
had  quarters  on  his  eyes,  too.  A  friend  came  in,  knelt  by  the 
coffin,  weeping  and  howling,  and  when  nobody  was  looking 
swiped  the  quarters  off  the  dead  man's  eyes.  Then  he  began  to 
pray,  and  as  he  prayed  that  rock  slid  off  the  corpse's  stomach 
and  hit  the  side  of  the  coffin.  Bang!  That  praying  Irishman  let 
out  a  scream  and  ran  out  of  the  house.  But  he  still  had  the 
quarters.' 

One  resident  of  the  section  said :  '  When  my  father  died  it  was  a 
real  Irish  wake.  We  had  tobacco  and  drinks  and  food  for  every- 
body. The  neighbors  stayed  all  night  and  the  more  they'd  drink 
the  louder  they'd  cry  and  yell,  until  it  seemed  like  they  was  try- 
ing to  see  who  could  yell  the  loudest.  Lots  of  strangers  came 
just  for  the  food  and  drinks.  I  recall  my  mother  telling  about 
one  old  woman  who  walked  in.  She  came  up  to  my  mother 
and  asked  her,  "Who's  the  bastard  that's  dead?"  Mother  was 
indignant,  of  course,  and  she  said,  "He  isn't  any  bastard.  He's 
my  husband!"  The  old  woman  looked  at  her  for  a  minute,  then 
she  said,  quiet-like,  "Well,  I'm  a  sonofabitch!" 

As  in  other  parts  of  the  city,  death  notices  were  pinned  or 
tacked  to  trees  and  fences  in  the  Channel  neighborhood.  Hun- 
dreds of  twigs  of  orange  leaves  were  gathered  and  carefully  sewed 
to  a  clean  white  sheet.  This  was  spread  over  what  was  known 
as  a- '  cooling  board'  and  the  board  was  placed  on  two  chairs  or 
sawhorses,  and  here  the  body  lay  until  it  was  placed  in  the  coffin. 
Often  it  lay  there  until  almost  time  for  the  funeral.  The  women 
of  the  family,  assisted  by  friends  and  neighbors,  gathered  and 
prepared  sandwiches  and  potato  salad,  baked  cakes  and  cookies. 
The  men  dug  deep  and  went  out  to  buy  quarts  and  quarts  of  good 
whiskey.  Sometimes  a  bit  of  shamrock  or  a  carefully  hoarded 
piece  of  Irish  earth  was  placed  in  the  hands  of  the  corpse. 


66  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

If  the  house  were  very  small  —  and  they  usually  were  — 
tables  were  set  out  in  the  backyard,  these  often  being  simply 
boards  on  sawhorses.  Here  the  feast  awaited  the  mourners  when 
night  came,  with  whiskey  and  sometimes  kegs  of  beer  open  to 
all.  The  wake  was  no  mournful  affair.  Jokes  were  told  and  songs 
of  the  old  country  sung.  The  males  got  into  all  sorts  of  mischief. 
If  one  fell  asleep  the  others  were  likely  to  take  off  his  pants  and 
hide  them,  or  to  paint  his  face  black  with  a  burnt  cork.  Some- 
times more  extreme,  or  perhaps  only  more  intoxicated,  jokers 
would  take  the  corpse  off  the  'cooling  board,'  stand  it  up  in  a 
corner  and  pour  whiskey  down  its  throat  —  to  '  help  the  auld 
boy  on  his  long  journey.' 

But  at  last,  after  the  long  wake,  the  hour  of  the  funeral  would 
approach.  Word  was  spread  from  mouth  to  mouth  and  everyone 
gathered  in  the  room  with  the  deceased.  Someone  near  the  body 
would  say,  'Jim  was  a  good  man!'  At  this,  the  widow  always 
started  to  cry  softly.  Another  would  say  something  similar. 
Another.  Soon  the  words  became  a  kind  of  chant,  passing  from 
lips  to  lips,  accompanied  by  the  cries  of  the  women,  which  grew 
in  intensity  and  volume  until  some  were  almost  screaming. 
Worked  up  to  a  frenzy,  men  and  women  would  howl,  until  the 
house  was  filled  with  the  eerie  sounds.  The  wailing  and  weeping 
would  continue  until  the  priest  arrived  for  the  services. 

There  might  or  might  not  be  a  band  in  the  cortege,  depending 
on  whether  or  not  the  deceased  had  belonged  to  certain  organ- 
izations. If  he  had,  the  music  played  en  route  to  the  cemetery 
would  be  low  and  mournful.  Returning  from  the  cemetery, 
livelier  numbers  were  in  order  —  spritely  Irish  tunes  or  popular 
music  of  the  day  —  '  Good-bye,  My  Honey,  I'm  Gone'  and 
'Won't  You  Come  Home,  Bill  Bailey?'  No  one  dared  to  return 
to  his  home  immediately;  to  do  so  was  to  bring  the  '  dust  of  the 
grave  into  the  house'  —  a  certain  harbinger  of  death. 

The  Channel  Irish  were,  of  course,  very  superstitious,  though 
not  a  single  individual  among  them  would  ever  have  admitted  it. 
Sometimes  the  nails  in  the  coffin  lids  were  removed  so  '  the  soul 
could  rise  without  trouble  on  Judgment  Day.'  Often  the  feet  of 
the  corpse  were  left  free  and  uncovered,  probably  for  the  same 
reason.  It  was  an  omen  of  death  to  dream  of  a  letter  edged  in 


The  Irish  Channel  —  67 

black.  A  sneeze  at  the  table  meant  someone  present  would  soon 
die.  A  bird  flying  into  the  house  through  an  open  window  fore- 
told the  same  tragedy,  as  did  a  white  spot  on  the  mirror;  clothes 
that  were  burned  were  never  patched,  for  that,  too,  would  mean 
death.  Watchers  at  wakes  frequently  carried  a  pinch  of  salt  in 
their  pockets,  tasting  it  from  time  to  time  to  ward  off  'evil.' 
The  candles  of  the  dead  were  never  blown  out,  but  pinched  out 
with  the  fingers. 

Yet  some  of  the  best-known  Irish  superstitions  seem  to  have 
been  left  in  Erin.  Evidently  the  banshee  couldn't  cross  water. 
New  Orleans  Irish  made  no  claims  to  hearing  its  cries. 

There  were  many  other  superstitions.  It  was  bad  luck  to  leave 
a  house  by  any  exit  but  the  one  by  which  you  entered,  a  belief 
still  prevalent  in  New  Orleans,  people  usually  apologizing  with 
'Of  course,  I'm  not  superstitious,  but .  . .'  The  salt  superstitions 
were  numerous.  Salt  was  never  borrowed.  To  accept  salt  was  to 
accept  evil.  Packages  of  salt  were  always  left  behind,  as  was  the 
broom.  (This,  too,  has  survived;  many  educated  Orleanians  will 
not  move  a  broom.)  Salt  thrown  on  the  front  steps  the  first 
Friday  of  each  month  brought  good  luck  to  the  household.  It 
was  even  bad  luck  to  run  out  of  salt. 

Breaking  a  clothesline  was  very,  very  unfortunate;  there  was 
no  telling  what  might  happen.  It  was  good  luck  to  keep  a  goat 
—  it  is  probably  true,  though,  that  the  Channel  folk  kept  theirs 
for  practical,  rather  than  superstitious,  reasons.  To  have  your 
hair  cut  on  Friday  invited  tragedy.  All  you  had  to  do  always  to 
have  at  least  one  piece  of  silver  was  to  burn  onion  peelings.  A 
sprig  of  verbena  in  your  wallet  or  purse  kept  money  there.  The 
ninth  bone  from  the  tail  of  a  black  cat  was  highly  valued  and 
kept  in  the  pocket  for  gambling  luck.  Sometimes  butterfly  wings 
were  tied  to  the  right  leg  for  the  same  effect. 

It  was  extremely  unfortunate  if  you  thoughtlessly  held  your 
shoes  above  your  head.  You  would  lose  everything  you  pos- 
sessed. The  belief  that  to  wash  your  feet  and  leave  the  water 
under  the  bed  was  bad  luck  may  be  traced  back  to  Ireland,  where 
it  is  thought  the  'little  people'  will  leave  a  house  where  there  is 
such  a  flagrant  display  of  laziness. 

There  were  several  wise  women  in  the  Channel,  who  seem  to 


68  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

have  been  combination  seers  and  midwives  in  most  cases.  Then 
there  was  a  'witch  man'  known  as  Buddy  Lolliger  who  pos- 
sessed the  disagreeable  ability  to  cause  an  automobile  wreck 
merely  by  wishing  it  would  happen.  There  is  evidence  that  the 
women  practiced  a  rather  commonplace-  type  of  voodoo  occa- 
sionally, with  love  charms,  pins  stuck  in  images,  etc. 

Like  the  Creoles,  the  Channel  Irish  tormented  newlyweds  with 
charivaris,  but  here  it  was  of  a  rowdy  character  surpassing  any- 
thing of  which  the  gentler  Creoles  had  ever  dreamed.  Often  it 
degenerated  into  out-and-out  blackmail.  In  1849  tne  Mardi  Gras 
almost  lost  its  existence.  It  had  long  been  a  custom  to  throw 
flour  at  passers-by.  Channel  youths  threw  quick  lime  instead, 
and  bricks.  One  respectable  lady  was  hit  in  the  head  and 
knocked  unconscious.  Then  the  better  elements  of  the  city  peti- 
tioned the  City  Council  to  abolish  the  Carnival,  though,  of 
course,  this  was  not  done. 

Richard  Braniff  told  of  the  wonderful  fighters  the  Channel 
produced.  'There  were  a  great  many  men  along  the  riverfront 
and  around  the  Irish  Channel  who  were  great  fighters  because  of 
their  strength  and  splendid  build,'  he  said.  'Joseph  Powers, 
Shorty  McLaughlin,  Bob  Bitters,  Bryan  Connors,  are  only  a  few 
of  the  names  I  recall  at  the  present.  Tom  Daugherty,  Tom  Casey, 
Paddy  Erie  and  Freddie  Krummel  were  all  good  men  who  earned 
their  reputations  by  actually  fighting  in  the  prize  rings  of  our 
city.  Charley  Cole,  James  Hill,  James  Noud  (son  of  Mike  Noud, 
proprietor  of  the  Ocean  Home),  Tom  Harrison,  Black  Walsh  and 
Harry  Nelson  were  all  clever  men.  The  Sunny  South  Athletic 
Club,  located  on  Tchoupitoulas  near  Josephine,  was  owned  by 
Billy  Armshaw,  better  known  as  "Big"  Armshaw.  He  was  an- 
other fine  and  handsome  young  man,  who  conducted  sparring 
exhibitions  every  Saturday  night.  There  was  always  a  pair  of 
boxing  gloves  with  a  horseshoe  in  each  glove,  very  handy  to 
accommodate  any  and  all  rowdy  customers,  who  after  getting  a 
few  drinks  under  the  belt  could  finally  declare  that  they  wanted 
to  fight  anyone  in  the  house.  Of  course  such  an  individual  would 
be  accommodated  at  once.  Many  a  good  white  hope  must  have 
been  amongst  the  splendid  set  of  men  who  worked  along  the 
riverfront,  because  of  the  remarkable  strength  and  beautiful 


The  Irish  Channel  —  69 

build  of  these  young  men,  who  were  the  pick  of  the  nation.' 
Mr.  BranifF  recalled  other  characters  of  the  Channel's  past. 
There  was  Skinner  Norton,  for  instance,  whose  feet  were  always 
so  swollen  he  never  could  wear  shoes.  He  would  walk  through 
the  neighborhood  carrying  a  wharf  plank  twenty-four  feet  long, 
twelve  inches  wide  and  three  inches  thick  on  his  shoulder,  which 
he  would  sell  for  twenty-five  cents  to  buy  something  to  eat  —  or 
drink.  There  was  '  Anti'  O'Rourke.  who,  though  a  hard  drinker, 
made  his  living  diving  into  the  river  from  the  tops  of  the  large 
steamboats  plying  the  Mississippi.  During  the  summer  'Anti' 
O'Rourke  would  attract  thousands  of  persons,  who  would  con- 
gregate along  the  riverfront  to  watch  his  '  sensational'  dives  from 
the  Natchez  or  the  Robert  E.  Lee.  Of  course,  before  performing, 
'Anti'  always  took  up  a  collection  from  the  passengers  on  the 
boat.  Mr.  BranifF  added,  '  He  learned  many  of  the  younger  gen- 
eration his  famous  Anti  Dive,  now  known  all  over  the  country 
as  the  Jackknife  Dive.' 

Billy  McCue  is  remembered  because  of  his  steadfast  belief  in 
the  superstition  that  if  you  added  a  room  to  a  house  some  mem- 
ber of  the  family  would  die.  When  Billy  married  his  girl,  Katie, 
he  built  her  a  four-room  house.  Billy  and  Katie  had  eight  chil- 
dren, the  neat  little  cottage  became  overcrowded,  and  Katie 
begged  Billy,  who  had  prospered  with  the  years,  to  add  a  room 
or  two.  This  Billy  firmly  refused  to  do,  though  he  did  not  then 
explain  his  refusal.  After  many  years,  when  five  of  the  children 
were  married,  and  the  other  three  had  entered  the  priesthood, 
Billy  gave  up  his  grocery  business  and  he  and  Katie  moved  to  the 
country.  Only  then  did  he  tell  her:  'My  old  Irish  mother  had  a 
superstition  about  adding  rooms  to  houses.  I  knew  if  I  had  done 
so  we  might  have  lost  some  of  our  fine  lads  and  lassies.'  It  is 
reported  that  the  new  tenant  of  the  house,  possessing  numerous 
offspring,  added  two  rooms,  and  that  five  years  later  every  mem- 
ber of  the  family  except  his  wife  and  the  youngest  child  was 
dead. 

Sir  Henry  Morton  Stanley,  world  famous  explorer  and  finder 
of  Doctor  Livingston,  spent  some  of  his  boyhood  in  the  Channel 
neighborhood.  Born  John  Rowlands,  a  British  subject,  he  came 
to  New  Orleans  at  eighteen  and  was  taken  into  the  home  of 


•jo  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Henry  Hope  Stanley.  Later,  in  gratitude,  he  changed  his  name 
to  that  of  his  benefactor.  It  is  thought  he  remained  in  the  Stan- 
ley home  —  still  standing  at  904  Orange  Street  —  for  about  two 
years,  until  joining  the  Confederate  Army  at  the  outbreak  of  the 
War  Between  the  States. 

John  Culligan  recalled  Perfume  Peggy,  who  died  about  1938. 
Peggy  gained  fame  early  in  life  as  the  cause  of  much  olfactory 
commotion.  'She  couldn't  fool  a  blind  man  when  she  walked 
into  a  room,'  said  Mr.  Culligan.  'She  even  stunk  on  picnics.  It 
was  Hoyt's  German  Cologne  she  used.  That  was  the  most  popu- 
lar perfume  in  the  Channel  —  just  like  all  the  girls  used  Tetlow's 
Face  Powder.' 

Peggy  overdid  her  perfuming;  it  was  generally  agreed  that  she 
probably  bathed  in  it.  '  Whew!'  breathed  Mr.  Culligan.  '  What 
a  smell!'  Probably  because  of  this,  though  one  of  the  prettiest 
girls  in  the  Channel,  she  didn't  marry  until  she  was  fifty  years  of 
age.  It  is  said  her  husband  drank  heavily  and  that  this  was  the 
only  reason  he  could  tolerate  his  wife's  fragrance.  Then  Peggy 
made  him  stop  drinking,  and  soon  thereafter  he  left  her.  But 
Peggy  wouldn't  give  him  up  so  easily.  Everywhere  he  went  she 
followed.  Once  when  he  had  gone  in  a  house  to  get  another 
woman,  she  hid  in  the  rear  of  his  car,  a  monkey  wrench  in  her 
fist.  That  time  her  perfume  saved  him  a  fractured  skull.  When 
he  emerged,  he  smelled  Peggy  and  he  and  his  new  girl  friend  made 
a  hasty  departure.  Perfume  Peggy  had  to  be  contented  with 
smashing  up  the  car  as  thoroughly  as  possible  with  the  monkey- 
wrench. 

In  her  latter  years  Peggy  changed  her  brand.  Given  to  attend- 
ing lotto  parties  (occasionally  she  was  thrown  out  at  the  insist- 
ence of  patrons  with  sensitive  nostrils),  she  came  to  believe  it 
was  Hoyt's  that  caused  her  to  lose  constantly.  She  found  a  brand 
she  preferred  —  Jockey  Club  —  and  her  luck  changed  immedi- 
ately. For  the  balance  of  her  life  she  used  this  Jockey  Club, 
which,  incidentally,  was  even  stronger,  according  to  Mr. 
Culligan. 

When  Peggy  died  her  husband  took  charge  of  the  body,  had 
her  buried  from  home  instead  of  from  a  funeral  parlor.  Comply- 
ing with  her  last  request,  he  sprinkled  the  corpse  with  so  much 


The  Irish  Channel  —  77 

Jockey  Club  that  the  scent  filled  the  house  and  nobody  could 
stay  in  the  room  very  long  the  night  of  the  wake.  '  When  Peggy 
was  put  into  her  tomb,'  Mr.  Culligan  concluded  —  '  and  I'm  not 
lying  —  there  was  so  much  perfume  on  her  that  I  could  smell  it 
after  the  vault  was  sealed.  You  couldn't  smell  the  flowers  at  all 
for  it.' 

Simon  Leopold,  a  Jew,  is  well  remembered  around  the  Irish 
Channel.  Every  day  he  stalked  through  the  neighborhood,  sell- 
ing notions  from  the  pack  on  his  back.  He  extended  credit  gen- 
erously, but  each  Saturday  evening,  when  the  men  were  home 
with  their  pay,  Simon  was  there  to  collect.  Then  there  was 
Rebentisch,  who  had  a  sign  reading,  '  Barber  Shop.  Cutting  and 
Bleeding  Shop.  Leeches'  before  his  establishment.  A  specialty 
was  using  leeches  to  cure  black  eyes,  a  not  unusual  disfigure- 
ment in  the  Channel.  George  Morrell  remembered  how  Reben- 
tisch extracted  teeth.  He  would  use  a  pair  of  pliers  big  enough 
to  '  open  a  water  plug,  and  once  he  caught  hold  of  a  tooth  it 
meant  certain  dispossession.' 

Mr.  Morrell  also  recalled  Braselman's  Store,  at  the  intersection 
of  Magazine  and  St .  Andrew  Streets .  '  That  was  the  big  shopping 
place  for  Irish  Channel  people.  The  women  would  go  there  to 
buy  bolts  of  red  flannel  with  which  to  make  underwear  with  long 
sleeves  and  legs.  Of  course  we  always  wore  our  shirt  sleeves 
rolled  up  to  show  the  red  flannel  underwear  beneath.  Everybody 
wore  them  then,  especially  the  longshoremen  and  screwmen, 
who  did  such  hard  work  they  were  always  sweating  and 
catching  cold.' 

Doctor  John  L.  Jones  was  one  of  the  most  beloved  persons  in 
the  Channel  of  some  thirty  or  forty  years  ago.  Doctor  Jones 
drove  through  the  section  every  day  and  almost  every  night,  car- 
ing for  sick  Irish.  Actually  he  was  the  physician  employed  by 
the  Longshoremen  and  Screwmen  Association,  but  the  whole 
neighborhood  idolized  him.  For  Doctor  Jones  treated  anyone 
who  was  sick,  whether  they  had  money  or  not,  and  when  he 
prescribed  medicine  and  the  family  had  no  money,  he  dug  into 
his  pockets  and  contributed  that,  too.  Michael  Myers  and 
Honnes  Hahn  told  this  story  concerning  the  big  smallpox  epi- 
demic which  struck  the  Channel: 


7-2  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

'Tom  Moran  was  the  first  to  die,'  they  said.  'He  lived  on 
Rousseau  and  Josephine  Streets,  just  a  block  from  the  Channel. 
The  Board  of  Health  wouldn  't  let  people  what  had  died  of  small- 
pox have  a  funeral,  but  buried  them  right  away.  Doctor  Jones 
was  across  the  street  and  he  watched  men  carrying  out  Tom's 
coffin,  coming  down  that  narrow  alley,  liquid  dripping  out  of 
the  thing  all  the  way  —  they  soaked  the  body  in  some  sort  of 
disinfectant  before  they  buried  it,  you  see  —  and  Doctor  Jones 
saw  'em  dump  the  coffin  on  a  wagon,  watched  it  creak  away  out 
of  sight.  He  got  to  thinking  and  he  knew  there  was  five  other 
Morans  down  with  the  disease,  and  that  nobody  would  go  near 
'em.  Without  thinking  anything  of  it  at  all,  he  crossed  the 
street  and  walked  right  into  that  plague-ridden  house  and  began 
nursing  them  people.  And  three  out  of  the  five  got  well! 

'  You  see  Doctor  Jones  was  always  experimenting.  Some  say 
that's  what  killed  him.  He  was  experimenting  on  himself  up  at 
Touro  Infirmary,  working  with  goats,  trying  to  find  a  cure  for 
tuberculosis.  He  kept  snakes  and  he  used  their  poisons  for  medi- 
cines. He  had  a  salve  called  "Dr.  Jones'  Black  Salve."  People 
told  a  story  about  a  fellow  with  a  wooden  leg  who  rubbed  some 
on  that  leg  and  grew  a  new  meat  one.' 

Many  of  the  stories  of  Doctor  Jones  revolve  about  his  forget- 
fulness.  He  would  enter  a  house,  leaving  his  horse  and  buggy 
outside,  and  boys  in  the  neighborhood  would  steal  the  horse 
and  buggy  and  go  riding.  Doctor  Jones  would  come  out,  com- 
pletely forget  the  horse  and  buggy  and  walk  home.  But  he  was 
so  beloved  that  the  boys  always  returned  his  property  as  soon  as 
the  ride  was  over.  He  was  always  leaving  his  hat,  his  coat  or  his 
medicine  bag  some  place  and  forgetting  them.  He  never  remem- 
bered to  carry  paper  on  which  to  write  down  his  prescriptions. 
Once  he  wrote  one  on  a  door  and  the  Irishman,  whose  wife  he 
was  treating,  ripped  the  door  off  the  hinges  and  carried  it  to  the 
drugstore  on  his  shoulder.  Often  he  wrote  them  on  his  own  cuff, 
tore  off  the  cuff  and  presented  it  to  the  people  of  the  house. 

The  Irish  Channel  remembers  Mrs.  Hickey,  too.  Like  most  of 
its  inhabitants,  Mrs.  Hickey  kept  goats.  She  had  four  or  five  and 
they  were  such  pets  that  they  ate  their  meals  at  the  table  with 
Mrs.  Hickey.  One  day  the  goat  wagon  —  a  vehicle  designed  for 


The  Irish  Channel  —  j  $ 

the  same  purpose  in  regard  to  goats  as  the  dog  wagon  for  dogs  - 
picked  up  Mrs.  Mickey's  goats,  whereupon  the  lady  burst  from 
the  house  and  gave  chase.  Catching  up  with  the  wagon,  she 
unlatched  the  door  in  the  back,  freeing  not  only  her  own  goats, 
but  all  the  others.  The  next  day  Mrs.  Hickey  received  a  court 
summons.  Mrs.  Rickey's  devotion  to  her  goats  was  paralleled 
by  another  New  Orleans  woman.  This  one  had  a  horse,  which 
she  would  ride  through  the  streets  from  time  to  time.  Her  small 
house  possessed  only  a  narrow  alley  and  a  tiny  backyard,  so  the 
horse  was  kept  in  the  kitchen,  where  it  slept  before  the  wood 
stove  on  cold  winter  nights. 

Professor  Clark  used  to  delight  the  Channel  Irish  by  donning 
eight  suits  of  clothes  and  diving  into  the  river  in  the  neighbor- 
hood of  Adele  Street.  He  would  strip  off  one  suit  after  another 
and  come  up  attired  in  a  bathing  suit.  Sometimes  he  would  have 
himself  tied  in  a  bag,  weighted  with  stones,  and  thrown  into  the 
water.  He  would  be  down  so  long  that  all  the  women  would 
squeal  with  terror,  but  of  course  Professor  Clark  always  emerged 
unharmed. 

Father  Pagan  is  one  of  the  best-known  characters  in  the  section 
today.  Almost  all  New  Orleans  Irish  are  Roman  Catholic  and 
hold  great  esteem  for  their  priests,  but  when  the  priest  is  as  typi- 
cal an  Irishman  as  Father  Pagan,  himself  born  and  reared  near 
the  Channel,  their  reverence  approaches  adoration. 

One  of  the  Redemptorist  Fathers  at  2.030  Constance  Street, 
Father  Pagan  takes  great  pleasure  in  'bawling  out'  his  parish- 
ioners from  the  pulpit.  He'll  boom  at  the  late  comers  to  Mass: 
'  What's  the  matter  with  you?  Were  you  out  too  late  last  night 
to  get  to  church  on  time  this  morning?'  A  small,  highstrung 
Irishman,  he  never  tires  of  singing  the  Channel's  praises.  His 
bright  eyes  snapping  behind  his  glasses,  he  said:  'I've  lived  all 
my  life  in  the  Channel  and  it's  the  finest  place  in  the  country  to 
live!  I  was  reared  right  here  at  St.  Mary  and  Annunciation.  We 
had  cows  and  pigs  and  goats.  Oh,  the  Irish  Channel  people  were 
a  pretty  tough  lot,  but  they  were  fine  people.  The  screwmen  and 
the  longshoremen  used  to  make  good  money,  but  they  never 
saved  any  of  it  —  God  bless  'em.  They  drank,  of  course,  and 
there  was  a  saying  that  they  ate  turkey  on  Sunday  and  pig  tails 
the  rest  of  the  week.' 


74  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Perhaps  it  is  only  on  Saint  Patrick's  Day  that  Orleanians  now 
realize  how  many  Irish  there  are  in  a  city  supposed  to  be  over- 
whelmingly Latin.  There  are  still  many  Irish  organizations  and 
clubs,  and  the  day  is  widely  celebrated  with  parades,  banquets, 
dances  and  Masses  at  Saint  Patrick's  Church.  Each  year  a  pretty 
Irish  colleen  heads  the  parade,  and  all  the  marchers  wear  derbies 
and  as  much  green  as  possible. 

On  this  day  oldtimers  who  had  lived  their  lives  in  the  Channel 
neighborhood  mourn  the  changes  that  have  come  about.  The 
real  Channel  —  Adele  Street  —  is  inhabited  entirely  by  Negroes, 
except  for  Jennie  Green  McDonald  and  her  family.  Muddy  and 
disreputable,  the  little  street  gives  no  hint  of  its  past.  At  St. 
Thomas  it  comes  to  an  end  at  the  brand-new  brick  buildings  of 
the  recently  constructed  Federal  Housing  Project.  The  oldtimers 
hate  these  modern  apartments,  though  the  young  people  delight 
in  the  bathrooms  and  electric  refrigerators,  and  despite  preju- 
dice against  the  invasion,  among  the  tenants  are  such  names  as 
Kelly,  O'Brien,  Burke  and  O'Donnell. 

But  Jennie  Green  McDonald  says  she  will  remain  in  Adele 
Street.  'We  own  this  property,'  says  she,  'and  we'll  stay  here. 
We  own  the  house  next  door,  too,  and  real  refined  colored  people 
rent  it.  I  wouldn't  want  to  live  in  them  government  slums.  They 
look  like  a  jail.  But  the  young  people  like  that  newfangled  stuff. 
I'll  stay  in  the  Irish  Channel,  even  if  it  has  become  the  Black 
Sea.' 


Chapter  4 


Axeman's  Jazz 


'NO,     SIR!'     DECLARED     MAMIE     SMITH     EMPHATI- 

cally,  her  eyes  huge  and  white  in  her  fat  black  face.  'I  sure 
don't  go  out  much  at  this  time  of  year.  You  takes  a  chance  just 
walkin'  on  the  streets.  Them  Needle  Mens  is  everywhere.  They 
always  comes  'round  in  the  fall,  and  they's  'round  to  about 
March.  You  see,  them  Needle  Mens  is  medical  students  from 
the  Charity  Hospital  tryin'  to  git  your  body  to  work  on.  That's 
'cause  stiffs  is  very  scarce  at  this  time  of  the  year.  But  them 
mens  ain't  workin'  on  my  body.  No,  sir!  If  they  ever  sticks 
their  needles  in  your  arm  you  is  jest  a  plain  goner.  All  they  gotta 
do  is  jest  brush  by  you,  and  there  you  is;  you  is  been  stuck. 
'Course  I  believes  it!' 

Hundreds  of  New  Orleans  Negroes  believe  it.  Fear  of  the 
Needle  Men,  which  dates  back  to  early  days,  could  possibly  be 
traced  to  voodooism.  Then  epileptics  were  thought  to  have  had 
a  spell  cast  upon  them.  Sometimes  such  an  individual  would  die 
in  the  streets  during  an  attack,  and  when  this  occurred  Negroes 
were  certain  the  Needle  Men  had  been  at  work.  Mamie  believes 
in  protecting  herself  from  these  corpse-hunting  'students.' 

'Sure,  I  carries  my  gun,'  she  said.    'I  always  got  it  with  me. 


7  6  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

I  don't  fool  around!  Any  of  them  Needle  Mens  come  after  me 
they  gonna  be  makin'  stiffs  of  theirselves.  Oh,  yes,  I  goes  to 
church.  I  been  on  the  board  'leven  years  now.  I  jest  been 
'pointed  head  of  the  toilet  committee.  My  duties  is  to  show  the 
new  members  where  the  toilet  is  at.' 

Apparently  Needle  Men  have  actually  appeared  on  several 
occasions,  though  this  is  debatable.  In  192.4  there  was  a  Needle 
Men  scare  in  the  Carrollton  section  of  the  city.  It  was  reported 
that  these  'fiends'  slunk  about  the  darkest  streets,  sprang  from 
behind  trees  or  from  vacant  lots  overgrown  with  weeds,  jabbed 
women  with  their  needles  and  fled.  Cruel  skeptics  insinuated 
the  'victims'  were  suffering  from  a  combination  of  imagination 
and  Prohibition  gin,  but  indignant  females,  of  all  colors,  swore 
to  the  existence  of  these  particular  Needle  Men. 

On  a  Sunday  night  in  February,  when  good  citizens  were  re- 
turning from  church,  the  police  managed  to  arrest  a  pair  of 
Negroes,  one  armed  with  a  twenty-six-inch  bayonet.  The  man 
with  the  bayonet  protested  he  packed  the  weapon  to  protect 
himself  against  the  Needle  Men,  but  the  police  were  certain  they 
had  their  man.  Both  prowlers  were  tried  in  night  court,  sen- 
tenced to  thirty  days,  and  the  Needle  Men  vanished  from  Car- 
rollton. 

Only  a  few  years  ago  Needle  Men  appeared,  according  to 
reports,  and  began  stabbing  young  women  while  they  were 
seated  in  moving-picture  theatres,  rendering  them  partially  un- 
conscious and  carrying  them  off  into  white  slavery  and  a  fate 
'worse  than  death.'  For  months  in  New  Orleans  downtown 
cinemas,  women  were  screaming  and  fainting  and  crying  out  they 
had  been  jabbed  with  a  needle.  But  so  far  as  can  be  ascertained, 
the  period  offered  no  more  disappearances  than  usual,  nor  is  it 
known  that  any  New  Orleans  women  strayed  down  the  prim- 
rose path  via  this  particular  route. 

Similar  to  the  Needle  Men,  at  least  in  intent,  are  the  Black 
Bottle  Men.  The  Black  Bottle  is  reputed  to  be  a  potent  dose 
administered  to  the  innocent  and  unknowing  on  entry  to  the 
Charity  Hospital.  Instant  death  is  certain  to  follow,  the  body 
then  to  be  rendered  up  to  the  students  for  carving. 

The  explanation  for  this  is  simple.    Every  person  entering 


Axeman  s  Ja%z  —  77 


Charity  Hospital  is  given  a  dose  of  cascara  upon  admission. 
Pure  cascara  is  nearly  black  and  when  magnesia  is  added,  as  is 
the  custom,  it  becomes  a  deep  brown,  the  change  in  color  causing 
Negroes  to  fear  it  is  a  death-dealing  drug. 

Still  another  terror  among  the  colored  folk  of  New  Orleans  is 
the  Gown  Man. 

'The  Gown  Man  is  tall  and  slim  and  wears  a  black  cap  and 
long  black  gown  that  reaches  to  the  ground.  He  goes  after  the 
womens  when  they  is  alone,  but  he  won't  touch  'em  if  a  mans  is 
around.  He  has  a  long  black  automobile,  I  done  seen  it,  parked 
down  at  the  bottom  of  the  levee.  I  really  doesn't  know  what 
he's  tryin'  to  do,  but  I  does  think  he  is  after  doin'  us  girls  some 
harm.  I'd  be  willin'  to  bet  my  haid  that  he  wants  somethin' 
from  us  girls  and  if  he  is  a  white  mans  I  really  doesn't  think  so 
much  of  him  'cause  he  ought  to  go  chasin'  his  own  kind.'  So 
spoke  Olivia  'Collins  who  lives  at  Camp  Street  near  the  levee  of 
the  Mississippi  River.  'I  knows  one  thing,'  Olivia  concluded 
firmly.  'He's  a  real  mans,  and  not  no  ghost!' 

Not  all  the  women  agree  to  that  last  assertion,  however. 
There  are  many  who  are  certain  he  is  a  'ghost.'  Around  the 
neighborhood  of  the  levee  he  usually  appears  driving  his  long 
and  shiny  car,  but  when  he  shows  up  in  other  sections  he  drops 
out  of  trees  and  sends  the  women  fleeing  and  screaming  for  their 
lives  and  virtues. 

A  similar  character  haunted  the  city  of  Baton  Rouge  for  sev- 
eral years  during  the  early  nineties.  'Hugging  Molly'  was  a 
white-robed  individual  who  would  hide  among  the  bushes  along 
North  Boulevard  until  some  girl  came  along;  then  he  would  rush 
out  and  crush  the  terrified  female  in  a  passionate  embrace.  Dis- 
guised in  a  sheet,  his  intention  was  evidently  to  appear  as  a 
woman  to  the  casual  observer. 

Soon  the  whole  town  was  trembling  for  fear  of  meeting  the 
dreadful  creature,  Negroes  being  particularly  alarmed  at  the 
resemblance  of  his  drapery  to  that  worn  by  the  —  at  that  time  - 
still  well  remembered  Ku  Klux  Klan.  In  later  years,  when 
'Hugging  Molly'  died,  in  a  dingy  room  in  a  loft,  there  was 
found  the  paraphernalia  he  used  for  a  disguise.  Apparently  a 
mentally  unbalanced,  but  relatively  harmless  creature,  he  had 
committed  no  crimes  other  than  his  amorous  squeezings. 


7  8  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

The  Mother  Hubbard  Man  haunted  the  streets  of  Alexandria 
for  several  weeks  during  August,  1919.  Clothed  in  a  loose  black 
robe,  he  was  seen  nightly  by  a  number  of  people  in  the  Negro 
section  of  the  town  known  as  the  Sonio  Oil  Mill  quarters.  The 
Negroes  were  greatly  frightened,  but  he  committed  no  crimes, 
and  vanished  as  abruptly  as  he  had  appeared. 

About  fifteen  years  ago  the  Domino  Man  appeared  in  the 
Gentilly  section  of  New  Orleans.  In  those  days  the  suburb  was 
sparsely  inhabited  and  there  were  many  empty  lots  with  high 
weeds  and  trees.  School  children  passing  through  thickly 
wooded  lanes  on  the  way  to  school  began  to  be  frightened  by  a 
creature  wearing  a  white  robe  and  hood,  who  had  the  agility  of  a 
monkey.  He  would  drop  from  trees,  chase  little  girls,  gesticu- 
lating wildly,  then  vanish.  He  could  leap  from  the  ground  into 
a  tree  and  disappear.  Men  were  known  to  have  fired  directly  at 
him  and  feel  confident  they  had  hit  him,  only  to"  have  him  re- 
appear the  next  day,  unharmed.  Apparently  his  only  desire  was 
to  frighten  the  children.  All  witnesses  swore  he  never  made  an 
attempt  to  attack  the  children  nor  even  to  follow  them  very  far. 
As  soon  as  they  screamed  or  ran,  he  vanished.  As  the  ^children 
were  always  too  frightened  to  be  certain  of  his  size,  it  was  sug- 
gested he  was  not  a  man  at  all,  but  a  monkey  someone  had 
dressed  up  as  a  practical  joke.  Others  concluded  that  since  most 
of  the  children  were  Catholics  he  was  undoubtedly  a  member  of 
theKuKluxKlan. 

Louisiana  has  had  whole  towns  placed  under  'spells.'  For 
several  decades  the  town  of  Columbia  existed  under  a  curse 
placed  upon  it  by  a  hanged  murderer.  It  began  about  1890  when 
a  white  man  killed  a  colored  woman  during  an  argument.  The 
woman,  a  midwife  and  cook,  was  well  liked  in  the  town.  Soon 
after  his  arrest  an  irate  mob  broke  into  the  parish  jail  and 
lynched  her  slayer.  It  is  said  that  before  his  death  the  murderer 
stated  that  each  ten  years  thereafter  Columbia  would  be  burned 
to  the  ground.  Another  version  has  it  that  certain  friends  of  the 
man  made  the  threat. 

Whichever  it  was,  shortly  afterward  the  entire  town  was  re- 
duced to  ashes  by  flames.  A  decade  later,  in  1900,  there  was 
another  fire  which  did  considerable  damage.  In  1909  the  entire 


Axeman  s 

business  district  burned.   In  1919  fire  razed  four  office  buildings. 
The  New  Orleans  States  of  Saturday,  March  7,  1914,  carried  the 
following  headlines  in  large  black  type: 

FIEND    CLIPS    SCHOOL    GIRL'S    HAIR 
Two   OTHER  YOUNG   WOMEN  MEET  LIKE  FATE 

Jack-the-Clipper  had  appeared  on  the  scene  to  inspire  horror 
among  these  proud  possessors  of  what  was  known  then  as  '  a 
wealth  of  woman's  crowning  glory.'  The  newspaper  reported: 

Three  New  Orleans  girls  have  fallen  victim  to  Jack-the- 
Clipper,  who  was  abroad  Friday,  snipping  the  plaited  locks  of 
young  schoolgirls.  Many  other  girls  were  said  to  have  lost 
their  hair,  but  are  suppressing  it  because  of  the  resultant  un- 
pleasant notoriety.  Superintendent  Reynolds  has  detailed  spe- 
cial officers  to  watch  for  the  miscreant,  who  has  been  operat- 
ing mostly  on  street  cars  and  in  moving-picture  theatres. 

It  is  not  thought  that  any  hair  dealers  are  guilty,  for  the 
tresses  were  slashed  but  a  few  inches  from  the  end,  while  the 
guilty  parties  had  an  opportunity  of  cutting  off  two  or  three 
feet  of  hair. 

During  the  next  few  weeks  there  wrere  a  number  more  cases 
reported  to  the  police,  and  the  opinion  grew  that  most  young 
ladies  suffered  in  silence  rather  than  endure  the  'resultant  un- 
pleasant notoriety.' 

On  March  13,  1914,  the  New  Orleans  States  reported: 

Since  stories  have  begun  to  appear  in  the  papers  regarding 
the  unmentionable  thief  who  has  been  cutting  off  hair,  New 
Orleans  girls  have  come  to  realize  that  they  wear  wealth  on 
their  heads.  Not  only  that,  but  they  are  taking  great  pains  to 
guard  it. 

A  chattering  group  of  school  girls  boarded  a  car  Thursday 
at  the  corner  of  the  Sophie  B.  Wright  High  School.  Thick 
braids  of  black,  brown  and  golden  hair  hung  down  their  backs. 
As  soon  as  they  had  found  seats,  giggling  stopped  long  enough 
for  them  to  reach  round  with  the  trained  precision  of  a  comic 
opera  chorus  and  bring  their  braids  to  the  front  and  tuck  them 
carefully  in  the  front  of  their  coats. 


8o  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

One  whose  hair  wasn't  long  enough  to  reach  worked  with 
her  refractory  curls  until  she  had  them  all  safely  tucked  from 
sight  in  the  crown  of  her  hat. 

Jack-the- Clipper  vanished  as  abruptly  as  he  had  appeared,  ap- 
parently having  satisfied  his  fetichism. 

During  the  period  from  192.1  to  1913  there  were  recurrent  epi- 
demics. These  were  the  years  when  bobbed  hair  was  coming  into 
fashion,  when  the  value  of  the  crowning  glory  was  rapidly 
diminishing,  and  to  bob  or  not  to  bob  was  the  profoundest  of 
questions.  This  new  'fiend'  invaded  the  sanctity  of  feminine 
boudoirs  and  hacked  the  tresses  into  rough-edged  bobs.  Perhaps 
it  is  significant  that  these  'victims'  were  all  young  women  im- 
bued with  a  passion  to  adopt  the  mode,  but  who  had  been  for- 
bidden to  do  so  by  old-fashioned  parents  or  husbands. 

But  it  was  in  May,  1918,  when  the  greatest  reign  of  terror  New 
Orleans  had  ever  known  began.  This  time  a  very  genuine  fear 
settled  over  the  city.  For  the  next  year  and  a  half  Orleanians 
were  to  awaken  nights  at  the  slightest  noise  and  strain  their  ears 
for  any  sound  that  might  resemble  that  of  a  chisel  scraping 
against  a  door  panel,  and  to  open  their  morning  papers  with 
trembling  hands.  The  Axeman  had  appeared  in  the  city,  ruth- 
lessly hacking  and  slaughtering  his  victims  while  they  slept 
peacefully  in  their  beds.  He  provided  little  humor. 

There  were  many  who  contended  that  the  Axeman  was  not  a 
man  at  all,  but  a  supernatural  being,  a  diabolical  fiend  and  agent 
of  the  Devil.  There  are  some  who  still  contend  that  he  was. 
There  is  little  chance  now  that  anyone  will  ever  know. 

On  a  Thursday  morning,  May  2.3,  1918,  Joseph  Maggio,  an 
Italian  grocer,  and  his  wife  were  butchered  with  an  axe  while 
they  slept  in  their  apartment  behind  the  Maggio  grocery.  Police 
discovered  a  panel  in  a  rear  door  had  been  chiseled  out,  providing 
entrance  for  the  murderer.  The  axe,  smeared  thickly  with  the 
Maggios'  blood,  was  discovered  under  the  house.  Nothing  in 
the  rooms  had  been  stolen.  Valuable  jewelry  reposed  atop  a 
dresser;  money  was  found  under  blood-soaked  pillows  on  which 
the  Maggios  had  slept,  in  drawers,  even  on  the  floor  beside  the 
bed. 


Axeman  s  Ja%%  —  Si 

Detectives  went  to  work  frantically.  Several  suspects  were 
arrested,  but  had  to  be  released  for  lack  of  evidence.  One  curious 
clue,  its  meaning  as  much  a  mystery  today  as  then,  was  the 
following  chalk  mark  on  the  banquette  near  the  victims'  home: 

Mrs.  Joseph  Maggio  will  sit  up  tonight.  Just  write  Mrs.  Toney. 

Police,  digging  into  records,  discovered  several  cases  in  the 
past  bearing  amazing  similarities  to  the  Maggio  tragedy.  In 
1911  there  had  been  three  actual  murders  and  a  number  of  attacks 
on  Italian  grocers  and  their  families.  In  all  the  cases  an  axe  had 
been  used  and  entry  to  the  homes  had  been  achieved  through 
removal  of  a  door  panel.  None  of  the  crimes  had  ever  been 
solved. 

The  Maggio  crime  aroused  Little  Italy  and  terror  spread  that 
another  outbreak  of  Mafia  or  Black  Hand  crimes,  such  as  the 
first  series  of  axe  murders  was  believed  to  have  been,  might 
follow. 

Almost  exactly  a  month  after  the  Maggio  case  came. the  second 
crime.  Louis  Bessumer,  a  grocer  residing  behind  his  store,  and 
his  common-law  wife,  Mrs.  Annie  Harriet  Lowe,  were  dis- 
covered by  neighbors  one  morning  lying  in  their  own  blood  in 
one  of  the  rooms.  Beside  them,  like  a  macabre  signature,  re- 
posed an  axe.  A  panel  of  the  kitchen  door  was  gone.  A  chisel 
lay  on  the  rear  steps.  Nothing  had  been  stolen. 

Regaining  consciousness  in  Charity  Hospital,  Mrs.  Lowe  first 
described  the  intruder  as  large,  young  and  very  dark.  Weeks 
later,  dying,  she  accused  Bessumer  of  the  attack,  and  the  grocer, 
recovered,  was  tried  for  Mrs.  Lowe's  murder.  This  was  a  war 
year,  Bessumer  was  a  German.  Rumor  spread  that  he  was  an 
enemy  agent  and,  as  is  common  at  such  times,  prejudice  against 
his  nationality  caused  much  bitter  feeling.  However,  it  could 
never  be  ascertained  how  he  could  have  butchered  Mrs.  Lowe, 
then  fractured  his  own  skull,  so  he  was  released.  Neither  was 
there  any  real  evidence  of  subversive  activities. 

Early  in  August  Mrs.  Edward  Schneider,  alone  in  her  home  in 
Elmira  Street,  awakened  to  see  a  dark,  phantom-like  form  tower- 
ing over  her  bed.  She  shrieked  as  the  axe  fell.  Neighbors  dis- 
covered her  unconscious,  her  head  cut  and  bloody,  several  teeth 
knocked  out.  She  recovered. 


8 2  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

A  few  nights  later,  Joseph  Romano,  Italian  grocer  at 
Tonti  and  Gravier  Streets,  fell  under  the  axe.  His  niece,  Pau- 
line Bruno,  occupying  the  next  room,  gave  an  account  of  the 
attack. 

'I've  been  nervous  about  the  Axeman  for  weeks,'  she  told  a 
reporter  of  the  Item,  August  10,  1918,  'and  haven't  been  sleeping 
much.  I  was  dozing  when  I  heard  the  blows  and  the  scuffle  in 
Uncle  Joe's  room.  I  sat  up  in  bed.  There,  at  the  foot  of  my  bed, 
was  this  big  heavy  set  man.  I  think  he  was  white,  but  I  couldn't 
swear  to  it.  It  was  just  a  quick  impression.  I  screamed.  My 
little  sister,  asleep  beside  me,  sat  up  and  screamed,  too.  We  were 
horribly  scared.  Then  he  ran.  He  was  awfully  light  on  his  feet. 
It  was  almost  as  if  he  wore  wings. 

'We  rushed  into  my  uncle's  room.  He  was  stretched  out  on 
the  bed  with  two  big  cuts  in  the  back  of  his  head.  We  got  him 
up  and  propped  him  in  a  chair  in  the  front  room.  "I've  been 
hit,"  he  groaned.  "I  don't  know  who  did  it.  Call  the  Charity 
Hospital."  Then  he  fainted.  Later  he  was  able  to  walk  to  the 
ambulance  with  some  help.  I  don't  know  that  he  had  any 
enemies.' 

Romano  died  a  few  hours  later,  without  being  able  to  give  any 
clue  as  to  the  identity  of  his  assailant. 

Now  literal  hysteria  swept  through  many  quarters  of  New  Or- 
leans. In  Italian  families,  members  divided  into  regular  watches 
and  stood  guard  over  their  sleeping  kin,  armed  with  loaded  shot- 
guns. Little  Italy,  believing  itself  in  most  danger  of  attack, 
waited  nervously.  Who  would  be  next? 

Opening  his  saloon  the  morning  of  August  n,  Al  Durand 
found  an  axe  and  a  chisel  outside  the  door,  which,  evidently,  had 
been  too  thick  for  the  intruder. 

The  Axeman  was,  according  to  witnesses,  actually  seen  in  the 
neighborhood  of  Tulane  and  Broad,  masquerading  as  a  woman. 
Citizens  organized  into  bands  and  launched  a  man  hunt,  without 
success. 

On  August  xi  a  man  was  seen  leaping  a  back  fence  at  Roche- 
blave  and  Cleveland  Streets.  The  locality  was  in  an  uproar  for 
hours. 

On  August  12.,  the  States  reported: 


Axeman  s  ]a^  —  8  $ 


Armed  men  are  keeping  watch  over  their  sleeping  families 
while  the  police  are  seeking  to  solve  the  mystery  of  the  axe 
attacks.  Five  victims  have  fallen  under  the  dreadful  blows  of 
this  weapon  within  the  last  few  months.  Extra  police  are  be- 
ing put  to  work  daily. 

At  least  four  persons  saw  the  Axeman  this  morning  in  the 
neighborhood  of  Iberville  and  Rendon.  He  was  in  front  of  an 
Italian  grocery.  Twice  he  fled  when  citizens  armed  themselves 
and  gave  chase.  There  was  something,  agreed  all,  in  the 
prowler's  hand.  Was  it  an  axe?  Superintendent  Mooney  is 
asking  for  the  cooperation  of  all  Orleanians  in  every  effort  to 
capture  this  fiend. 

Little  Italy  divided  its  time  between  guarding  the  kitchen 
doors  and  kneeling  at  the  family  altars.  Saint  Joseph  was  receiv- 
ing more  than  his  usual  share  of  donations.  The  police  whirled 
like  dervishes. 

Joseph  Dantonio,  retired  Italian  detective,  gave  the  following 
interview: 

'The  Axeman,'  Detective  Dantonio  pontificated,  according  to 
the  States,  August  18,  'is  a  modern  "Dr.  Jekyll  and  Mr.  Hyde." 
A  criminal  of  this  type  may  be  a  respectable,  law-abiding  citizen 
when  his  normal  self.  Compelled  by  an  impulse  to  kill,  he  must 
obey  this  urge.  Some  years  ago  there  were  a  number  of  similar 
cases,  all  bearing  such  strong  resemblance  to  the  present  out- 
break that  the  same  fiend  may  be  responsible.  Like  Jack-the- 
Ripper,  this  sadist  may  go  on  with  his  periodic  outbreaks  until 
his  death.  For  months,  even  for  years,  he  may  be  perfectly  nor- 
mal, then  go  on  another  rampage.  It  is  a  mistake  to  blame  the 
Mafia.  Several  of  the  victims  have  been  other  than  Italians,  and 
the  Mafia  never  attacks  women.' 

In  the  last  part  of  August  the  rear  door  of  Paul  Lobelia's 
grocery  and  residence  at  742.0  Zimple  Street,  was  chiseled 
through.  No  one  was  home  at  the  time.  The  same  day  another 
grocer,  Joseph  Le  Boeuf,  whose  store  was  only  a  few  blocks  from 
the  Romano  home,  reported  an  attempt  to  chisel  through  a 
panel  in  one  of  his  rear  doors.  Aroused,  he  had  frightened  the 
intruder  away.  An  axe,  apparently  hastily  dropped,  lay  on  his 
back  steps.  The  next  day  an  axe  was  found  in  the  yard  of 
A.  Recknagle,  grocer,  at  2.4x8  Cleveland  Street.  There  were  the 


84  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

scars  of  a  chisel  on  a  back  door.  All  this  had  its  compensations, 
however.  The  grocers  were  receiving  free  advertisements  in  the 
newspapers. 

On  September  15,  Paul  Durel,  grocer  at  2.2.39  North  Robertson 
Street,  discovered  an  attempt  had'  been  made  to  chisel  through 
his  door.  A  case  of  tomatoes  resting  against  the  panel  had  foiled 
the  Axeman.  During  this  period  a  number  of  burglaries  were 
committed  also,  the  robbers  sometimes  entering  through  a  door 
panel,  thus  aping  the  methods  of  the  Axeman. 

Then,  as  suddenly  as  he  had  appeared,  the  Axeman  vanished. 
Orleanians,  citizens  and  police,  gradually  learned  the  art  of 
breathing  freely  again,  as  week  followed  week,  month  followed 
month,  and  door  panels  remained  intact. 

But  on  March  10,  1919,  at  three  o'clock  in  the  morning,  Mrs. 
Charles  Cortimiglia,  wife  of  a  grocer  in  Gretna,  just  across  the 
Mississippi  River  from  New  Orleans,  awakened  to  see  her  hus- 
band struggling  with  a  large  man  in  dark  clothes,  who  was 
armed  with  an  axe.  As  Cortimiglia  fell  to  the  floor,  his  head  a 
gory  mass  of  blood,  his  wife  clasped  her  two-year-old  daughter 
Mary  in  her  arms  and  begged  the  intruder  for  mercy,  at  least  for 
the  child.  But  the  axe  fell  relentlessly.  Mary  was  killed,  her 
mother  received  a  fractured  skull. 

Regaining  consciousness  in  Charity  Hospital  several  days 
later,  Mrs.  Cortimiglia  accused  a  seventeen-year-old  neighbor, 
and  his  father,  of  the  attack.  It  was  several  weeks  before  Cor- 
timiglia was  able  to  give  a  statement.  Then  he  contradicted  his 
wife's  assertion,  saying  it  was  not  the  accused  persons,  but  a 
'dark,  unknown  man.' 

Police,  discovering  the  Cortimiglias  and  their  neighbors  had 
been  on  bad  terms,  arrested  the  young  man  and  his  father  and 
charged  them  formally  with  the  murder  of  little  Mary  Corti- 
miglia. Despite  his  youth,  the  son  was  over  six  feet  tall  and 
weighed  more  than  two  hundred  pounds.  Detectives  on  the  case 
admitted  it  was  impossible  that  such  a  large  person  could  have 
entered  through  the  small  opening  made  by  removing  a  panel. 
One  odd  theory  advanced  at  this  time  was  that  the  axe  murderer 
might  be  a  woman  —  or  a  midget !  Despite  the  fact  that  all 
recovered  victims  had  described  their  assailant  as  large,  how 


Axeman  s 

could  a  big  man  crawl  through  such  little  space?  All  doors  had 
been  locked,  the  keys  removed;  it  would  have  thus  been  impos- 
sible for  the  intruder  to  have  unlocked  a  door  by  inserting  his 
hand.  And  the  doors  were  still  locked  when  the  attacks  were 
discovered. 

Following  the  Cortimiglia  murder,  New  Orleans  and  vicinity 
was  again  aroused.  The  S  fates •,  March  n,  summed  it  up  as 
follows : 

Who  is  the  Axeman;  and  what  are  his  motives? 

Is  the  fiend  who  butchered  the  Cortimiglias  in  Gretna  Sun- 
day the  same  man  who  committed  the  Maggio,  Bessumer  and 
Romano  crimes?  Is  he  the  same  who  has  made  all  the  attempts 
on  other  families? 

If  so,  is  he  madman,  robber,  vendetta  agent,  sadist  or  some 
supernatural  spirit  of  evil? 

If  a  madman,  why  so  cunning  and  careful  in  the  execution  of 
his  crimes?  If  a  robber,  why  the  wanton  shedding  of  blood  and 
the  fact  that  money  and  valuables  have  often  been  left  in  full 
view?  If  a  vendetta  agent  of  the  Mafia,  why  include  among 
victims  persons  of  nationalities  other  than  Italian? 

The  possibilities  in  searching  for  the  motives  in  this  ex- 
traordinary series  of  axe  butcheries  are  unlimited.  The  records 
show  no  details  of  importance  which  vary.  There  is  always 
the  door  panel  as  a  means  of  entrance,  always  the  axe,  always 
the  frightful  effusion  of  blood.  In  these  three  essentials  the 
work  of  the  Axeman  is  practically  identical. 

In  the  same  article  Superintendent  Mooney  said:  'I  am  sure 
that  all  the  crimes  were  committed  by  the  same  man,  probably  a 
bloodthirsty  maniac,  filled  with  a  passion  for  human  slaughter. ' 

Then,  on  Friday,  March  14,  1919,  another  newspaper  received 
a  letter  from  a  person  who  declared  he  was  the  Axeman.  The 
letter  read  as  follows : 

Hell,  March  13,  1919 
Editor  of  the  Times-Picayune 
New  Orleans,  La. 

Esteemed  Mortal: 
They  have  never  caught  me  and  they  never  will.  They  have 


86 —  GumboYa-Ya 

never  seen  me,  for  I  am  invisible,  even  as  the  ether  that  sur- 
rounds your  earth.  I  am  not  a  human  being,  but  a  spirit  and  a 
fell  demon  from  the  hottest  hell.  I  am  what  you  Orleanians 
and  your  foolish  police  call  the  Axeman. 

When  I  see  fit,  I  shall  come  again  and  claim  other  victims.  I 
alone  know  whom  they  shall  be.  I  shall  leave  no  clue  except 
my  bloody  axe,  besmeared  with  the  blood  and  brains  of  he 
whom  I  have  sent  below  to  keep  me  company. 

If  you  wish  you  may  tell  the  police  to  be  careful  not  to  rile 
me.  Of  course,  I  am  a  reasonable  spirit.  I  take  no  offense  at  the 
way  they  have  conducted  their  investigations  in  the  past.  In 
fact,  they  have  been  so  utterly  stupid  as  to  amuse  not  only  me, 
but  His  Satanic  Majesty,  Francis  Josef,  etc.  But  tell  them  to 
beware.  Let  them  not  try  to  discover  what  I  am,  for  it  were 
better  that  they  were  never  born  than  to  incur  the  wrath  of  the 
Axeman.  I  don't  think  there  is  any  need  of  such  a  warning,  for 
I  feel  sure  the  police  will  always  dodge  me,  as  they  have  in  the 
past.  They  are  wise  and  know  how  to  keep  away  from  all 
harm. 

Undoubtedly,  you  Orleanians  think  of  me  as  a  most  horrible 
murderer,  which  I  am,  but  I  could  be  much  worse  if  I  wanted 
to.  If  I  wished,  I  could  pay  a  visit  to  your  city  every  night.  At 
will  I  could  slay  thousands  of  your  best  citizens,  for  I  am  in 
close  relationship  with  the  Angel  of  Death. 

Now,  to  be  exact,  at  11:15  (earthly  time)  on  next  Tuesday 
night,  I  am  going  to  pass  over  New  Orleans.  In  my  infinite 
mercy,  I  am  going  to  make  a  little  proposition  to  you  people. 
Here  it  is  : 

I  am  very  fond  of  jazz  music,  and  I  swear  by  all  the  devils  in 
the  nether  regions  that  every  person  shall  be  spared  in  whose 
home  a  jazz  band  is  in  full  swing  at  the  time  I  have  just  men- 
tioned. If  everyone  has  a  jazz  band  going,  well,  then,  so  much 
the  better  for  you  people.  One  thing  is  certain  and  that  is  that 
some  of  those  people  who  do  not  jazz  it  on  Tuesday  night  (if 
there  be  any)  will  get  the  axe. 

Well,  as  I  am  cold  and  crave  the  warmth  of  my  native  Tar- 
tarus, and  as  it  is  about  time  that  I  leave  your  earthly  home,  I 
will  cease  my  discourse.  Hoping  that  thou  wilt  publish  this, 
that  it  may  go  well  with  thee,  I  have  been,  am  and  will  be  the 
worst  spirit  that  ever  existed  either  in  fact  or  realm  of  fancy. 

THE  AXEMAN 


Axeman '  s  Ja%£  —  J  7 

Orleanians  did  their  best  that  Tuesday  night  —  a  Saint  Jo- 
seph's Night  —  to  satisfy  the  Axeman's  passion  for  jazz  and  to 
purchase  immunity  with  music. 

In  fact,  the  Axeman  was  invited  to  be  a  guest  at  one  party. 
Oscar  Williams,  William  Schulze,  Russell  Simpson  and  A.  M. 
La  Fleur  inserted  an  advertisement  in  the  newspapers  Tuesday 
morning,  inviting  the  murderer  to  a  stag  affair  at  552.  Lowerline 
Street  that  evening.  Minute  instructions  were  given  as  to  his 
means  of  entry.  He  was  requested  not  to  mar  any  doors,  but  to 
utilize  a  bathroom  window-,  and  was  assured  no  doors  would  be 
locked  in  the  house.  His  hosts  deplored  the  fact  that  there 
would  be  no  jazz  music  at  the  party,  but  only  a  suitable  rendering 
of  'Nearer,  My  God,  to  Thee.'  He  was  promised  every  consid- 
eration as  a  guest  and  at  least  four  scalps.  'There  is  a  sincere 
cordiality  about  this  invitation,'  stated  the  hosts,  in  the  Times- 
Picayune^  March  19,  1919,  'that  not  even  an  Axeman  can  fail  to 
recognize.' 

Cafes  all  over  town  were  jammed.  Friends  and  neighbors 
gathered  in  homes  to  '  jazz  it  up.'  Midnight  found  the  city  alive 
with  the  '  canned  music'  of  the  period  —  inner-player  pianos  and 
phonographs.  In  the  levee  and  Negro  districts  banjos,  guitars 
and  mandolins  strummed  the  jazziest  kind  of  jazz.  Joseph  Da- 
villa,  well-known  New  Orleans  composer  of  popular  music, 
wrote  the  theme  song  for  the  night.  Mr.  Da  villa  titled  his  com- 
position 'The  Mysterious  Axeman's  Jazz'  or  'Don't  Scare  Me, 
Papa.'  Not  a  single  attack  occurred  that  night.  Evidently  the 
Axeman  failed  in  his  promise  to  'pass'  over  the  city,  or  else  he 
was  well  satisfied  with  the  celebration  in  his  honor. 

The  night  of  August  3,  1919,  Miss  Sarah  Laumann,  a  girl  of 
nineteen,  was  attacked  with  an  axe  while  she  slept  in  her  home. 
Though  she  received  a  brain  concussion  she  recovered.  But  this 
raised  the  terror  to  new  heights.  Miss  Laumann  was  not  the 
proprietor  of  a  grocery;  she  was  not  Italian;  her  assailant  had 
not  entered  by  a  door  panel,  but  had  used  a  window.  The  Axe- 
man was  no  longer  confining  his  victims  to  one  type,  nor  using 
one  means  of  entry.  This  seemed  to  enlarge  the  list  of  prospective 
victims. 

Then  he  vanished,  apparently  taking  another  vacation.    Dur- 


88—  Gumbo  Ya-Ya   . 

ing  the  following  few  months,  though  police  relaxed  their  vigi- 
lance not  an  iota,  there  were  no  indications  of  his  operations 
anywhere  in  the  city. 

It  was  October  when  he  reappeared  for  his  final  slaughter. 
Mike  Pepitone,  a  grocer,  was  butchered  in  his  bed  on  the  twenty- 
seventh  of  that  month.  His  wife  and  six  children,  asleep  in  an 
adjoining  room,  were  unmolested.  A  picture  of  the  Virgin  Mary, 
hanging  above  Pepitone's  bed,  was  splattered  with  his  blood. 

Then,  at  last,  after  eighteen  months  of  his  dreaded  visitations, 
the  Axeman  vanished  from  New  Orleans  forever.  Though  fam- 
ilies still  kept  watch  and  the  police  continued  feverish  and 
frantic  endeavors  to  locate  some  clue  to  the  identity  of  the  mur- 
derer, nothing  else  happened.  The  nights  passed  as  peacefully 
as  if  he  had  never  stalked  the  dark  streets,  seeking  a  back  door 
for  his  chisel,  a  sacrifice  for  his  axe. 

There  were  aftermaths.  The  Gretna  youth,  already  sentenced 
to  be  hanged  for  the  murder  of  the  Cortimiglia  child,  and  his 
father,  sentenced  to  life  imprisonment  as  an  accessory,  were 
freed  on  December  6,  192.0,  a  full  pardon  being  granted.  Mrs. 
Cortimiglia  had  suddenly  and  mysteriously  refuted  all  her  testi- 
mony against  the  two  men,  confessing  at  this  late  date  that  she 
had  never  seen  her  assailant  clearly.  She  told  Jefferson  Parish 
authorities  that  Saint  Joseph,  patron  saint  of  all  Italians,  had 
appeared  to  her  in  a  dream  and  instructed  her  to  tell  the  truth 
and  to  beg  her  neighbors'  forgiveness.  So  that  Monday  morning 
the  two  Gretna  men  walked  out  of  the  little  town  jail  into  a 
driving  rain,  free  citizens. 

But,  far  away  on  the  Pacific  Coast,  more  than  a  year  after  the 
Axeman's  exit,  a  former  Orleanian,  Joseph  Mumfre,  fell  dead  in 
a  street  of  the  bullets  fired  from  a  revolver  in  the  hands  of  a 
woman.  The  woman,  identified  as  Mrs.  Esther  Albano,  was 
later  discovered  to  be  the  widow  of  Mike  Pepitone,  last  of  the 
Axeman's  victims. 

Immediately  police  tried  once  more  to  untangle  the  web  that 
probably  linked  all  the  cases.  Some  decided  that  Mumfre  had 
been  the  long  sought  Axeman.  He  was  known  to  have  been  at 
one  time  the  leader  of  a  band  of  blackmailers  who  had  preyed 
relentlessly  on  Italians  in  New  Orleans.  Curious  coincidences 


Axeman  s  Ja%£  —  89 

were  revealed.  Mumfre  had  been  sent  to  prison  just  after  the 
first  axe  murder  in  1911.  In  the  summer  of  1918  he  was  paroled, 
just  at  the  time  the  Axeman  had  reappeared.  Immediately  after 
the  Pepitone  killing  Mumfre  had  left  for  the  Coast,  and  the  Axe- 
man had  again  vanished.  However,  there  was  no  evidence  of 
his  connection  with  the  ghastly  crimes. 

Some  people  still  contend  that  the  Axeman  was  not  a  man  at 
all,  but,  as  the  letter  in  the  newspaper  stated,  '  a  fell  demon  from 
the  hottest  hell . . .  the  worst  spirit  that  ever  existed  either  in 
fact  or  in  the  realm  of  fancy. ' 

Twenty  years  after  the  Axeman's  visit,  another  demon  ar- 
rived in  Louisiana.  This  was  a  far  less  harmful  spirit,  however, 
though  many  believed  he  was  the  Devil  himself.  In  September  of 
1938  there  appeared  in  Algiers,  on  the  other  side  of  the  Missis- 
sippi from  New  Orleans,  a  mysterious  stranger  who  rode  on  the 
air,  wrecked  bars  and  homes  and  insulted  women.  He  is  de- 
scribed as  having  had  long  black  horns,  bright  pink  ears  shaped 
like  sunflowers  and  eyes  like  a  chicken.  He  could  make  himself 
disappear  or  change  into  a  baboon  right  before  your  eyes.  And 
he  announced  he  was  the  'Devil  Man.' 

The  Devil  Man  never  killed  anybody  permanently,  but  he 
caused  a  lot  of  temporary  deaths  from  fright.  One  night  a  man 
and  his  wife  were  coming  home  from  a  dance  in  their  automobile 
and  were  stopped  by  a  man  who  asked  for  a  ride.  The  woman 
did  not  like  his  looks,  so  he  was  refused.  Ten  miles  later  they 
met  the  same  man  again,  and  the  couple  became  nervous  and 
threw  their  liquor  out  of  the  car.  Ten  miles  later  the  same  man 
stopped  them  once  more.  But  this  time  he  didn't  bother  to  ask 
for  a  ride.  He  performed  in  a  much  more  picturesque  fashion. 
He  just  changed  himself  into  a  devil,  right  before  their  eyes, 
casually.  Of  course,  the  woman  fainted.  Somehow  the  man 
managed  to  keep  the  car  going  down  the  road.  A  few  miles 
farther  the  Devil  Man  made  a  fourth  appearance,  this  time  riding 
a  brown  horse.  The  Ford  won  the  race. 

The  couple  told  the  neighbors  about  their  experience  and  the 
neighbors  told  the  police,  causing  the  latter  to  begin  an  extensive 
search  for  this  remarkable  individual.  There  are  stories  of  the 


go  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

police  meeting  him,  firing  their  pistols,  and  having  the  bullets 
returned  to  them  by  way  of  hairy  hands. 

Soon  the  Devil  Man  was  insulting  Negro  women  in  the  streets, 
and  some  of  them  didn't  like  it  very  much.  There  were  so  many 
different  stories  of  meeting  the  Devil  Man  that  Sergeant  Holm  of 
the  Algiers  police  ordered  everyone  arrested  who  so  much  as  said 
they  had  seen  him.  But  the  only  actual  arrest  made  was  of  a 
wild-eyed,  dark  brown  fellow  who  said  his  name  was  Clark 
Carle  ton,  that  he  came  from  the  hills  of  Arkansas  and  had  been 
sent  to  this  'latitude'  by  the  great  spiritual  monarch,  King  Zulu. 
This  monarch,  said  Clark,  was  not  to  be  confused  with  the  King 
Zulu  of  New  Orleans'  Mardi  Gras,  being  the  'great  benefactor 
and  advisor  to  Neptune,  who  comes  only  to  those  who  speak  his 
language.'  And  Clark  said  he  spoke  his  language  very  fluently. 
However,  he  said  he  wasn't  really  the  Devil.  He  was  greater 
than  the  Devil! 

George  Horil,  white  proprietor  of  the  Paradise  Inn,  tried  to 
prevent  the  police  from  arresting  Clark  and  substantiated  some 
of  the  stranger's  statements.  But  his  influence  failed.  What 
could  the  police  of  any  civilized  country  do  with  a  man  who 
claimed  to  be  greater  than  the  Devil? 

Horil  told  another  version  as  to  how  the  Devil  Man  story 
began. 

'That  Negro  came  into  my  place  about  a  month  ago,'  Horil 
said.  ' He  told  me  he  was  hungry,  and  said,  "I'm  from  the  hills 
of  Arkansas.  My  ears  look  like  they  are  waiting  for  to  hear  the 
up  yonder  spirits  and  my  eyes  look  like  they  are  looking  for  the 
moon.  Even  the  Devil  would  feed  me."  I  could  see  the  man 
was  hungry,  so  I  gave  him  a  piece  of  pie,  some  milk  and  a  sand- 
wich. I'll  admit  he  did  look  funny.  Well,  long  about  that  time 
some  school  children  came  along  and  started  laughing  at  the 
man,  who  was  standing  in  front  of  my  place,  now.  They  kidded 
him  so  much  that  he  became  angry,  and  he  said,  "If  y'all  don't 
let  me  alone,  I'm  goin'  to  put  the  Devil  on  you."  Then  the  kids 
started  yelling.  "Devil  Man!  Devil  Man!"  They  drew  such  a 
crowd  that  the  man  got  scared  and  ran  off. 

4  Then  the  story  got  around  that  he  disappeared  into  the  grave- 
yard opposite  my  place.  Some  of  the  beer  parlors  began  saying 
the  Devil  Man  had  been  to  their  joints,  bought  whiskey  and 


Axeman  s  Jat£  -91 


disappeared.  They  said  he  would  come  back,  and  crowds  of 
people  would  hang  around  these  places  in  hopes  of  seeing  him, 
some  of  them  carrying  guns  and  rifles.  Of  course  most  of  them 
would  buy  drinks  and  plenty  of  them.  One  fellow  said,  "If  the 
Devil  Man  takes  me  to  Hell  I  want  to  be  good  and  drunk." 

'One  of  the  places  put  a  sign  outside,  saying  the  Devil  Man 
was  doing  all  his  drinking  in  his  bar.  And  the  people  went  for 
it.  They  packed  the  place.' 

Louis  Kohlman,  proprietor  of  Kohlman's  Bar,  said  his  busi- 
ness had  doubled  itself.  The  owner  of  Karper's  beer  parlor 
stated:  'The  Devil  Man  nearly  ruined  my  business.  The  people 
wouldn't  come  out  at  night,  especially  when  they  heard  this 
Devil  Man  had  poured  whiskey  down  a  woman's  back  in  my 
place.'  The  desk  sergeant  at  the  Algiers  police  station  said  cyn- 
ically, 'There  isn't  any  Devil  Man,  not  even  the  man  we  have 
arrested.  He's  just  trying  to  make  some  money.' 

But  while  the  body  of  the  captured  Devil  Man  languished  be- 
hind prison  bars",  his  spirit  apparently  stalked  the  streets  of  New 
Orleans.  On  the  night  of  September  13,  1938,  there  were  more 
than  two  hundred  calls  at  police  headquarters  regarding  pe- 
culiarly Satanic  activities.  It  was  reported  that  the  Devil  Man 
was  entering  bars  and  frightening  bartenders  into  giving  him  free 
drinks  simply  by  removing  his  hat  and  letting  them  view  his 
horns.  One  call  offered  the  information  that  the  Devil  Man  was 
in  the  Big  Apple,  a  popular  Negro  rendezvous  in  South  Rampart 
Street,  doing  the  Big  Apple.  There  were  evidently  several  Devil 
Men  at  work. 

However,  the  one  in  the  prison  cell  announced,  with  no  little 
pride  : 

'  My  name  is  Clark  Carleton,  and  I  am  the  Devil  Man  —  but 
greater  than  the  Devil.  I  came  from  the  hills  of  Arkansas  on 
September  6,  1938.  I  walked  under  the  stars  and  Neptune  guided 
me  through  the  darkness  of  the  night.  I  reached  Port  Allen, 
Louisiana,  and  from  there  I  rode  the  ferry  into  Baton  Rouge; 
then  I  came  to  New  Orleans,  still  under  the  guidance  of  Neptune 
and  possibly  one  of  his  assistant  stars.  I  stopped  at  the  Page 
Hotel.  I  came  to  New  Orleans  as  the  sun  came  down  in  the  skies. 

'  Yes,  they  got  me  in  jail,  but  it's  my  spirit  that  is  haunting  the 
people,  because  I  have  not  been  treated  right  by  the  police. 


p2  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

That's  why  I'm  going  to  keep  on  troubling  them.  If  I  wanted  to, 
I  could  get  out  of  sight  right  now  —  I  could  disappear  away 
from  all  of  you/  At  this  point  a  policeman  offered  the  infor- 
mation that  Clark  had  'disappeared'  one  day,  breaking  jail, 
and  had  been  recaptured. 

'You  want  to  know  how  I  got  my  powers?  Well,  Neptune 
came  to  me  in  the  form  of  a  fishhook  in  June  and  May  of  1937. 
I  was  reading  my  Bible  at  the  time.  Oh,  yes,  I'm  a  Baptist  man, 
but  I  believe  in  the  Divine,  too.  Neptune  told  me  to  walk 
straight  ahead,  that  I  would  find  a  two-headed  man  stranded  on 
a  rock.  I  found  him  but  he  disappeared.  Then  I  knew  I  had  the 
power. 

'I  went  to  fourth  grade  in  school.  I  ain't  no  amnesia  victim, 
but  I  don't  remember  anything  about  my  people  or  anything  else 
about  myself.  Tonight  I'm  going  to  divide  myself  with  Neptune 
and  maybe  when  you  come  back  I  will  be  able  to  tell  you  more. 
But,  please  tell  everybody  that  I'm  not  going  to  hurt  anyone,  my 
spirit  is  just  passing  around  New  Orleans  and  Algiers  like  a  bird 
because  I  have  been  mistreated  by  the  police.' 

On  September  2.4  somebody  shouted  'Devil  Man'  in  the  base- 
ment of  the  Craig  Negro  Public  School.  A  near  riot  was  the 
result.  Little  colored  boys  and  girls  ran  screaming  for  homes  and 
mothers.  Teachers  barred  all  doors  to  lock  themselves  in. 
Anxious  parents  ran  to  the  school  for  reassurance. 

Opinions  regarding  the  Devil  Man  varied  greatly.  In  one 
respect,  however,  most  colored  citizens  agreed.  As  staunchly 
religious  Sister  Susie  Mack  phrased  it,  'Ain't  nobody  got  no 
business  messin*  around  with  no  man  what  professes  to  be  the 
Devil!' 

Evidently  this  Devil  Man  did  at  last  go  too  far.  The  last  heard 
of  him  was  when  a  'devil  baby'  with  'horns  'n  all'  was  reported 
born  in  one  of  the  Negro  sections  of  New  Orleans.  'The  Devil 
sure  got  us  now!'  was  the  mournful  conclusion  whispered  from 
door  to  door. 

But  Louisiana  can  take  it.  As  Brother  Peter  Williams,  ebon 
pillar  of  Mother  Keller's  church,  said  with  immortal  wisdom 
and  magnificent  tolerance: 

'It  is  our  policy  to  give  every  man  a  hearing,  be  he  devil  or 
baboon.' 


Chapter 


Saint  Joseph's  Day 


'I  HAVE  THREE  ORPHANS  AT  MY  ALTAR' —  MRS. 

Messina  sat  heavily  in  a  chair,  her  knees  spread  wide  apart,  and 
mopped  at  her  flushed  face  with  a  damp  ball  of  a  handkerchief. 
From  her  perspiring  state  and  the  tantalizing  aroma  drifting 
from  the  rear  of  the  house  it  was  simple  to  deduce  she  had  just 
finished  preparing  the  food  for  the  altar  at  the  opposite  end  of 
the  room.  Steam  still  curled  upward  from  a  white  bowl  of  dark 
green  artichokes.  '  One  of  my  kids  is  only  half  of  an  orphan, '  she 
explained.  'His  pa's  still  living,  but  he  don't  have  no  steady 
work,  so  he's  worse  off  than  a  whole  orphan!' 

Mrs.  Messina  waved  a  thick  red  hand  in  the  air,  slapped  a  fat 
knee  resoundingly.  '  You  like  my  altar,  eh?  I  have  five  hundred 
different  kinds  of  food.  Besides  the  three  sorts  of  Saint  Joseph's 
bread,  I  have  stuffed  artichokes,  stuffed  crabs,  stuffed  peppers, 
stuffed  celery,  stuffed  eggs  and  stuffed  tomatoes.  I  have  lobsters, 
red  snapper  fish,  shrimps,  crayfish,  spaghettis,  macaronis,  spin- 
ach, peanuts,  layer  cakes,  pies,  pineapples...'  Mrs.  Messina 
took  a  breath.  'My  God!  I  have  everything!  This  is  the  fifth 
year  I  make  an  altar.  Five  years  ago  my  little  girl  she  get  sick 
and  when  she  get  well  she  can't  talk.  My  baby  is  deaf  and  dumb. 


94  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

I  almost  go  crazy.    She  is  my  life!   My  God,  I  lose  my  mind!' 

Mrs.  Messina  blew  her  nose.  'We  had  a  little  market  then, 
and  one  day  an  old  lady  come  in  begging  for  her  Saint  Joseph's 
altar.  I  give  her  a  dollar  and  I  told  her  if  she's  come  back  I'd  give 
her  a  basket  of  fruit.  I  tell  you  the  truth.  I  will  always  be  glad 
that  old  woman  come  to  see  me  —  I  was  so  crazy.  My  baby  was 
too  little  to  understand  why  she  can't  talk.  When  I  take  her  out 
she  tear  off  my  hat  and  pull  at  my  clothes  to  show  me  something. 
She  stomp  her  feet  and  her  face  get  so  red  she  almost  bust.  All 
the  time  I  come  home  a  wreck. 

'Well,  like  two,  three  days  before  Saint  Joseph's  Day  that  old 
lady  come  running  into  my  place  all  excited  like,  and  she  say: 
' '  Mrs.  Messina,  I  had  a  vision .  I  seen  Saint  Joseph  with  my  own 
two  eyes.  He  say  I  must  go  get  that  little  girl  who  can't  talk 
and  make  her  the  Virgin  at  my  altar." 

'I  tell  you  my  kid  looked  beautiful!  I  dressed  her  up  all  in 
white  with  a  wreath  in  her  hair.  And  right  after  that  year  I 
started  my  altars,  because  next  day  Saint  Joseph  come  to  me.  He 
say,  "Mrs.  Messina,  why  don't  you  have  an  altar  for  me,  your- 
self?" I  say,  "Saint  Joseph,  please  give  my  kid  back  her  speech, 
or  you  take  her  yourself."  See  how  crazy  I  was?  But  right  away 
then  she  starts  to  get  better.  But,  my  God,  what  I  go  through 
for  that  kid!  Without  Saint  Joseph  I  couldn't  stand  it.  This 
might  be  my  last  altar.  I  got  to  think  about  it.  If  I  make  an- 
other vow,  then  I'll  have  to  keep  on  making  'em.' 

Mrs.  Messina's  altar  was  a  large  one.  A  big  statue  of  Saint  Jo- 
seph dominated  a  central  group  of  plaster  saints  who  wore  gaud- 
ily painted  robes  of  red,  blue  and  gold.  There  were  paper  flowers 
of  pink  and  blue,  scarlet  and  orange,  and  vases  and  bowls  filled 
with  real  Easter  lilies,  carnations  and  roses.  Trailing  bridal 
wreath  wound  about  the  top,  from  which  were  suspended  silver 
bells  and  ornaments  obviously  borrowed  from  last  year's  Christ- 
mas Tree.  Three  tiers  and  a  long  table  held  platters  of  food  of 
every  kind  and  description.  Tall  lighted  candles  flickered  to- 
ward the  ceiling,  for  it  was  nearly  time  for  the  noon  hour  '  Feast 
of  the  Saints.' 

When  the  priest  arrived,  five  people  took  seats  at  a  small 
cable.  In  the  place  of  honor  facing  the  altar  was  an  elderly  man 


Saint  Joseph' s  Day  —  p/ 

in  a  loose  brown  robe,  wearing  a  pasteboard  crown  and  carrying 
a  long  stick  with  a  snowy  lily  attached  to  the  end  of  it.  He,  it 
was  whispered,  was  the  good  Saint  Joseph  himself.  And  the  girl 
opposite  him,  wearing  the  light  blue  veil  over  her  dark  hair,  was 
the  Virgin  Mary.  Three  children  grouped  about  them:  a  boy 
wearing  a  halo  fashioned  of  pasteboard  and  a  raincoat  and  a  girl 
in  a  white  cambric  dress  and  veil,  and  another  in  ordinary 
clothes.  These  three  were  Mrs.  Messina's  two  and  one  half 
orphans. 

The  priest  took  a  position  behind  '  Saint  Joseph/  chanted  some 
prayers  in  Latin  and  sprinkled  water  over  the  altar.  Then  he 
turned  and  said:  'Now  you  are  all  blessed!  Go  ahead  and  eat.' 
And  he  left  the  room. 

Then  'Saint  Joseph'  knelt  before  the  altar  and  in  a  moment 
every  person  in  the  room  was  on  his  knees.  The  prayers  over,  a 
woman  stepped  forward,  gathered  a  bouquet  of  red  carnations 
from  the  altar  and  placed  it  in  the  arms  of  the  '  Virgin  Mary. ' 

Now  the  news  spread  that  a  procession  would  take  place  to  a 
near-by  church,  where  a  petition  would  be  made  that  Mrs.  Mes- 
sina's eldest  daughter,  who  was  pregnant,  might  have  an  easy 
delivery. 

'Saint  Joseph'  in  the  lead,  everybody  marched  three  blocks  to 
the  church  and  returned,  carefully  retracing  the  same  route  on 
the  way  back  to  the  house  that  they  had  used  upon  leaving.  To 
have  varied  this  in  even  a  small  degree  would  certainly  have 
brought  bad  luck.  Perhaps  Mrs.  Messina's  eldest  daughter  might 
not  receive  the  full  benefits  of  the  petition  just  made. 

Again  seated  at  the  table,  in  precisely  the  same  order  as  before, 
the  five  were  served  from  the  altar,  each  receiving  a  tiny  portion 
of  everything.  Only  after  they  had  finished  eating  could  the  fam- 
ily and  neighbors  eat,  and  the  lucky  beans,  bits  of  Saint  Joseph's 
bread  and  bay  leaves  be  distributed.  Outside  the  house  people 
were  gathering,  most  of  them  lean  and  poorly  clad.  Whatever 
was  left  would  be  given  these  poor.  Such  is  the  custom  on  Saint 
Joseph's  Day. 

Originating  in  Sicily,  and  long  a  day  for  feasting  and  dancing 
among  Italians,  Saint  Joseph's  Day  is  widely  celebrated  among 
the  Italians  in  New  Orleans  and  near-by  towns.  The  date, 


p  6  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

March  19,  is  considered  a  day's  respite  from  the  fasting  and  spir- 
itual sackcloth  and  ashes  of  the  Lenten  season,  and  is  sometimes 
known  as  Mi-Careme  (Mid-Lent). 

Legend  holds  that  in  the  Middle  Ages  a  group  of  Italians  were 
exiled  from  their  country  and  set  adrift  on  the  sea  in  a  small  boat. 
In  despair  they  prayed  to  Saint  Joseph  for  guidance  and  protec- 
tion, promising  to  honor  him  each  year  if  their  lives  were  spared. 
Cast  upon  the  shore  of  an  uninhabited  island,  they  immediately 
erected  an  altar  of  branches  and  palmetto  leaves  and  decorated  it 
with  wisteria,  wild  red  lilies  and  other  flowers. 

But  even  before  that  Saint  Joseph  had  received  some  measure  of 
recognition.  In  the  fourth  century,  Helena,  mother  of  the  Em- 
peror Constantine,  erected  a  basilica  at  Bethlehem  in  honor  of 
Saint  Joseph.  The  Coptic  Church  included  the  feast  of  Saint 
Joseph,  the  Carpenter,  in  its  church  calendar,  the  date  being  set 
at  July  2.0,  and  in  most  of  the  early  churches  Joseph  was  honored 
along  with  Saint  Simeon,  Saint  Anna  and  other  saints  associated 
with  the  birth  and  infancy  of  Jesus. 

The  first  church  dedicated  to  Joseph  was  erected  in  Bologna  in 
112.9,  n*s  feast  day  being  celebrated  shortly  before  Easter  at  that 
period.  However,  church  leaders  of  the  fourteenth  century,  in- 
cluding Saint  Gertrude,  Saint  Thomas  Aquinas  and  Saint  Bridget 
of  Sweden,  declared  he  had  never  received  his  rightful  place  and 
insisted  that  he  be  accorded  more  fitting  honors.  It  was  only 
then  that  this  festival  was  officially  inserted  in  the  Franciscan 
calendar,  and  under  the  papal  rule  of  Sixtus  IV,  the  date  was  set 
at  March  19.  In  172.6  Pope  Benedict  XIII  placed  Joseph's  name 
in  the  Litany  of  Saints,  and  in  1870  Pius  IX  solemnly  declared 
him  the  patron  saint  of  the  Roman  Catholic  Church. 

But  New  Orleans  Italians  have  never  required  any  urging  to 
honor  Saint  Joseph.  The  morning  of  March  19  finds  Catholic 
churches  filled  to  overflowing,  at  noon  the  ceremonies  at  the 
home  altars  are  held  with  ever-increasing  enthusiasm,  and  the 
night  is  celebrated  with  dances  and  parties  all  over  the  city. 

Interesting  is  the  companion  tradition  of  the  swallows  of  San 
Juan  Capistrano  at  the  California  mission.  The  New  Orleans  Item 
reported  the  annual  return  of  the  swallows  on  March  19.  1940,  as 
follows : 


Saint  Joseph's  Day 

The  swallows  of  San  Juan  kept  their  age-old  rendezvous  be- 
neath the  eaves  of  historic  San  Juan  Capistrano  Mission  today. 
They  began  arriving  out  of  a  murky  sky  from  the  south  around 
6:30  A.M.,  and  within  a  few  minutes  were  waging  their  annual 
warfare  with  the  swifts  which  had  moved  into  their  quarters 
since  their  departure  last  Saint  John's  Day,  October  2.3.  As 
usual,  the  swallows  were  victorious,  and  soon  they  were  set- 
tling themselves  for  their  summer's  stay. 

For  a  century,  tradition  has  held  that  the  swallows  have 
left  the  adobe  walls  of  the  mission,  founded  in  1776  by  the 
Order  of  Saint  Francis,  annually  on  the  feast  day  of  its  patron 
saint,  and  have  returned  on  Saint  Joseph's  Day. 

The  popular  song  of  1940,  '  When  the  Swallows  Come  Back  to 
Capistrano,'  was  composed  by  a  New  Orleans  Negro  —  Leon 
Rene,  formerly  a  student  of  Xavier  University. 

The  larger  Saint  Joseph  altars  in  New  Orleans  are  built  in  tiers, 
upon  which  is  arranged  the  food,  which  usually  includes  every- 
thing that  can  be  bought  in  markets  or  delicatessens  and  many 
homemade  Italian  delicacies  unknown  in  other  American  homes. 
Always  occupying  the  place  of  honor  in  the  center  is  a  large 
statue  of  Saint  Joseph,  and  grouped  about  this,  statues  of  other 
saints.  There  are  huge  candles,  some  weighing  as  much  as  ten 
pounds,  gilded  and  embellished  with  representations  of  angels 
and  flowers.  Electric  lights,  Christmas-tree  ornaments,  vases  and 
bowls  of  fresh  and  artificial  flowers  are  placed  here  and  there 
among  dishes  and  platters  of  food.  The  Times-Picayune  described 
the  edibles  on  one  altar  thus : 

There  were  three  types  of  Italian  bread,  made  in  the  shapes 
of  wreaths,  as  offerings  to  the  Holy  Family.  A  stuffed  lobster, 
a  bak,ed  redfish  and  quantities  of  shrimp  occupied  places  of 
prominence.  There  were  alligator  pears,  prickly  pears,  nuts, 
Japanese  persimmons,  fried  cauliflower,  fig  cakes,  snap  beans, 
stuffed  crabs,  doughnuts,  peanuts,  crayfish,  pineapples,  grape- 
fruit, mulberries,  onions,  celery,  nectarines,  oranges,  almonds, 
tomatoes,  grapes,  plums,  artichokes,  dates  and  frosted  layer 
cakes  by  the  dozen. 

In  and  out  between  the  squash,  spinach,  fruit  cake  and  ripe 
peaches  were  bowls  of  antipasto  relish  and  bottles  of  wine. 
Neat  cones  of  pigulasto,  a  pastry  of  dough  and  molasses,  lent 


9  8  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

an  ornamental  touch  with  the  many  vases  of  roses,  lilies,  car- 
nations and  sweet  peas.  Sweet-scented  pittosporum  twined 
about  the  structure.  Most  of  the  food  was  to  be  given  away. . .. 

Everyone  is  invited  to  come  and  pay  homage  to  Saint  Joseph. 
In  the  New  Orleans  newspaper  columns  known  as  the  Personal 
Columns  —  always  filled  with  curious  notices  peculiar  to  the 
city  —  public  invitations  are  extended  annually  to  anyone  wish- 
ing to  visit  the  altars. 

Mr.  and  Mrs.  V.  Gennusa,  Sr.,  52.30  Laurel  Street,  invite  you 
to  visit  their  St.  Joseph's  Altar,  March  18  and  19. 

Mr.  and  Mrs.  P.  Farrugia,  1301  Prytania  Street,  invite  you  to 
visit  their  St.  Joseph's  Altar. 

We  cordially  invite  the  public  to  visit  a  St.  Joseph's  Altar  at 
1046  Magazine  Street. 

Mrs.  J.  Mosena,  3605  Banks  Street,  invites  the  public  to  visit 
her  St.  Joseph's  Altar,  March  18,  at  night,  March  19,  in  day. 

St.  Joseph's  Altar,  on  March  i9th,  in  St.  Expedit  Temple,  3933 
Hollywood  Street. 

You  can  visit  100  St.  Joseph's  Altars  from  list  of  names  at 
shrine  of  E.  A.  Zatarain,  915  Valmont  Street. 

Mr.  and  Mrs.  Natale  Schiambra  request  their  many  friends  to 
visit  their  St.  Joseph's  Altar  at  their  residence,  406  S.  Genois 
Street,  on  March  18  and  19. 

The  public  is  invited  to  visit  the  St.  Joseph's  Altar  of  Mr.  and 
Mrs.  Sebastian  Ambrosia,  1662.  Annunciation  Street.  Monday 
and  Tuesday,  March  18  and  19. 

There  will  be  a  St.  Joseph's  Altar  at  St.  Raymond's  Chapel, 
3108  Melpomene. 

Public  is  invited  to  visit  St.  Joseph's  Altar,  915  Governor 
Nicholls  Street.  Mrs.  John  Quagline. 

EVERYBODY  cordially  invited  to  St.  Joseph's  Altar,  1839  Touro 
Street.  Mrs.  S.  Lombardo. 

The  Saint  Joseph's  bread  and  the  lucky  beans  are  the  most  im- 
portant items  on  the  altars,  and  a  small  piece  of  bread,  a  lucky 
bean  and  sometimes  a  bay  leaf  or  two  are  given  every  visitor. 


Saint  Joseph' s  Day  —  p# 

The  beans  will  bring  good  luck,  and  the  bit  of  bread  kept  in  the 
house  all  year  will  protect  the  occupants  from  ever  starving. 
Most  visitors  leave  a  coin  at  the  altar. 

Some  Italians,  having  made  a  special  vow,  beg  for  the  food  for 
their  altars,  going  from  door  to  door,  store  to  store  and  friend  to 
friend,  asking  for  money  or  a  donation  of  food. 

Statues  of  Saint  Joseph  holding  the  Christ  Child  have  long 
been  popular  for  private  altars  in  the  homes  of  New  Orleans 
Creoles;  and  many  New  Orleanians  carry  miniature  representa- 
tions of  the  saint  in  small  capsules  in  their  pockets  or  pocket- 
books.  If  a  favor  is  asked  of  Saint  Joseph  and  not  granted,  the 
figure  is  sometimes  stood  on  its  head  as  punishment  until  the 
wish  is  fulfilled. 

The  night  of  Saint  Joseph's  Day  has  always  been  a  time  for 
parties  and  dances  in  New  Orleans.  These  celebrations,  of  course, 
always  end  promptly  at  the  stroke  of  twelve,  for  at  midnight 
Lent  is  resumed,  and  fasting  and  penance  again  become  a  part  of 
daily  lives.  For  a  century  Saint  Joseph's  Night  has  been  an  im- 
portant date  on  the  social  calendar  of  New  Orleans.  As  early  as 
March  16,  1858,  the  New  Orleans  Daily  Picayune  reported: 

'GRAND  BAL  PARfi  ET  MASQUE' 
(SAINT  JOSEPH'S  DAY) 

At  the  Orleans  Theatre,  on  the  evening  of  St.  Joseph's  Day, 
Friday,  the  i9th  inst.,  a  grand  fancy  dress  and  masquerade  ball 
is  to  be  given,  on  the  plan  of  those  of  the  Grand  Opera  in  Paris. 
From  the  preparations  made  and  making  for  this  affair  we  are 
induced  to  anticipate  a  magnificent  result.  Tickets  may  be 
procured  at  the  box  office  of  the  theatre. 

Masquerades  and  dances  still  take  place  in  New  Orleans  and 
its  vicinity  that  night.  Many  clubs  give  parties,  and  most  of  the 
Saint  Joseph  altar-donors  terminate  the  night  in  dancing.  Every- 
one considers  it  a  joyous  intermission  in  the  Lenten  season, 
which  is  so  strictly  observed  here.  Even  night-clubs  and  cafes 
have  more  than  usual  crowds.  And  these  parties  are  by  no 
means  confined  to  the  Italian  element,  or  even  to  those  people  of 
Roman  Catholic  faith,  but  are  enjoyed  by  all  types  and  national- 
ities of  Orleanians.  Negroes  celebrate  Saint  Joseph's  Night  by 


TOO—  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

donning  their  Mardi  Gras  costumes,  a  peculiar  custom  dating 
back  many  years.  On  South  Rampart  Street,  blacks,  browns  and 
high  yellows  step  high,  wide  and  fancy,  and  there  are  numerous 
balls  and  dances. 

In  1940,  March  19  fell  in  Holy  Week,  and  Archbishop  Joseph 
Francis  Rummel  of  New  Orleans  asked  that  there  be  no  altars 
and  no  celebrations  on  this  date,  that  April  2.  be  substituted. 
There  was  much  consternation.  Orleanians  were  faced  with  a 
crisis  only  to  be  compared  with  the  two  Thanksgivings  of  recent 
memory.  Some  Italians  dutifully  obeyed,  but  others  refused, 
asserting  Saint  Joseph  wouldn't  like  his  day  changed.  So  New 
Orleans  had  two  opportunities  and  two  excuses  to  give  parties, 
and  no  Orleanian,  Italian  or  otherwise,  ever  quibbled  over  an 
extra  celebration. 

Mrs.  Coniglio  had  her  altar  March  19. 

'Ain't  it  a  shame  to  change  Saint  Joseph's  Day?'  she  de- 
manded. 'It's  not  right  to  do  a  thing  like  that.  The  whole 
world,  she's  gone  crazy!'  She  sighed  disgustedly.  'How'd  you 
like  somebody  to  change  your  birthday?' 

Mr.  Coniglio  volunteered  his  opinion. 

'We  have  a  fine  altar  for  thirty-four  years.  Saint  Joseph  he 
never  say  change  no  date.  Saint  Joseph  Day  is  March  i9th  and 
March  i9th  she  stay! 

'  My  wife  and  me  come  from  Corleone  —  that's  in  Italy  —  like 
immigrants,  and  when  we  come,  Caterina  —  that's  my  wife  — 
she  is  very  seeck.  She  go  to  the  hospitals  and  all  the  doctors 
stand  around  and  look  at  her  like  they  don't  know  nothing,  and 
they  don't  do  nothing.  So  Caterina,  my  wife,  she  makes  a  prom- 
ise to  Saint  Joseph  to  make  him  a  altar  every  year  if  he  makes  her 
well.  Sure,  the  doctors  come  see  her  every  day,  but  they  do  no 
good.  It's  Saint  Joseph  make  Caterina  well. 

'She  promise  to  beg  for  her  altar,  so  she  ask  everybody  for 
money.  Some  people,  say  no,  some  give  a  nickel,  some  people 
gets  mad.  So  Caterina  she  says  she's  stop  asking  people.  She  pay 
for  everything  herself.  Then  Saint  Joseph  he  get  mad.  You 
would  not  believe  it,  but  Saint  Joseph  come  to  Caterina  in  a 
dream  like  and  he  say:  "You  promise  to  beg  for  my  altar.  You 
must  ask  at  least  three  people  to  keep  your  vow."  So  Caterina 


Saint  Joseph's  Day  —  101 

ask  three  people  every  year  now.  Her  Uncle  Pete  he  gives  a 
dollar,  my  daughter  Lena  gives  fifty  cents  and  Caterina's  friend 
—  she's  the  lady  lives  next  door  here  —  she  gives  a  quarter. 
Like  that  Caterina  keep  her  vow  and  Saint  Joseph  don't  get  mad. 

'  Some  people  make  a  speculation  with  Saint  Joseph.  They  beg 
from  everybody  —  a  nickel  here,  a  quarter  there.  Pretty  damn 
soon  they  make  for  themselves  a  lot  of  money  and  keep  it  all  for 
them.  My  family  is  not  like  that.  But  we  have  our  altar  this 
year  as  always.  What  we  promise  Saint  Joseph  we  do.  I  don't 
care  what  anybody  say.  I  call  the  priest  to  bless  it  and  he  say, 
"Okay.  Goo'bye!" 

But  Mrs.  Caparo  disagreed.  '  Most  of  the  priests  wouldn't  bless 
their  altars,'  she  insisted.  '  And  what  good  is  an  altar  if  it  ain't 
blessed?  The  Father  told  me  I  did  right  having  mine  on  April  id. ' 

Mrs.  Caparo 's  altar  was  huge  and  extremely  elaborate.  Exact 
copies  of  sacred  objects  found  on  the  Roman  Catholic  altars  had 
been  constructed  of  cake  and  coated  with  various  icings.  There 
were  crosses,  decorated  with  stylized  plants,  hearts,  roosters  and 
stars,  all  of  cake  and  pastry.  Everyone  in  the  neighborhood  had 
contributed.  Even  friends  in  the  country  had  sent  little  lambs  of 
cake,  stuffed  with  figs  and  covered  with  a  fleece  of  grated  coco- 
nut. These  last  were  Mrs.  Caparo's  special  pride,  and  rested  in  a 
place  of  honor  near  Saint  Joseph's  feet. 

The  Caparo  family  did  not  consider  the  altar  in  an  entirely 
religious  light.  Every  now  and  then  one  of  the  children  would 
make  a  running  dash,  snatch  a  cake  or  doughnut  from  a  dish  and 
vanish  as  quickly  as  he  had  appeared.  The  only  admonishment 
given  would  be  a  half-humorous  warning  that  Saint  Joseph 
would  make  his  teeth  rot  if  he  ate  his  food  now.  ;•;.&•••.; 

'When  they  send  my  boy  to  war,'  Mrs.  Caparo  explained,  'I 
promise  Saint  Joseph  if  he  send  my  boy  back  and  he  not  have  to 
fight  and  not  get  himself  hurt,  I  make  him  an  altar  every  year. 
So,  my  boy,  he's  in  the  camp,  see?  And  I  was  all  the  time  cry  and 
all  the  time  pray  and  pray.  The  next  day  my  boy  was  to  leave  to 
go  fight,  the  lady  from  downstairs  she  comes  upstairs  and  tells  me 
she  has  a  telegram  for  me.  It  is  from  my  boy,  and  he  says  he's 
gonna  come  home  tomorrow,  is  not  have  to  fight  on  account  of 
there's  something  wrong  with  his  neck.  I  get  so  happy  I  cry  and 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

laugh  all  together  at  one  time !  Right  away  I  go  see  the  sisters 
on  Rampart  and  Conti  Streets.  They  send  away  for  me  and  I  get 
a  statue  of  Saint  Joseph  for  fifty  dollars,  and  I  make  an  altar 
every  year  and  put  the  statue  on  top.' 

Among  the  saints  on  the  altar  was  a  picture  of  Huey  P.  Long. 

'No,  I  don't  consider  him  a  saint  or  nothing,'  Mrs.  Caparo 
explained.  'I  just  feel  sorry  for  him.  He  looks  like  my  other 
boy  who  was  drowned.  My  boy  is  drowned  in  the  river.' 

A  heavy-set,  gray-haired  man  entered  the  room.  'I  am  Plit- 
nick,'  said  he  —  'Mrs.  Caparo's  hoosband.  You  wouldn't  be- 
lieve it,  but  I  am  a  Jew.  All  the  time  I  study  and  write.  I  am 
vorking  on  some  short  stories,  but  I  have  the  timidity  and  I  am 
afraid  they  are  no  good.  Joost  now  I  am  studying  the  conscious. 
You  see,  there  is  the  subconscious,  the  conscious  and  the  super- 
conscious.  We  Russians  understand  the  finer  things  of  life.  That 
is  why  we  are  all  the  time  so  sad/ 

Mrs.  Caparo  explained.  'Mr.  Plitnick  is  my  second  husband. 
I  keep  my  first  husband's  name  because  everybody  know  me  by 
that.  He  was  kicked  in  the  heart  by  a  mule  and  was  killed.  It 
was  terrible.' 

Mr.  Plitnick  frowned.  '  Go  get  some  Saint  Joseph's  bread  and 
cake.' 

'Keep  the  bread  until  it  storms,'  instructed  Mr.  Plitnick's 
wife,  Mrs.  Caparo.  'If  it  storms  and  you  take  a  piece  and  throw 
it  outside  and  say,  "  Saint  Joseph,  make  the  storm  go  away!"  you 
see  it  go  away  and  not  touch  you.  He's  a  great  man,  Saint 
Joseph!' 

One  of  the  most  elaborate  and  most  famed  altars  in  New  Or- 
leans is  the  annual  one  at  the  delicatessen  of  Biaccio  Montalbano 
at  72.4  St.  Philip  Street.  His  place  of  business  is  a  shrine  all  year. 

Entering  a  screen  door  from  the  banquette,  you  find  yourself  in  a 
narrow  room,  furnished  with  a  long  counter,  shelves  and  a  glass 
showcase,  and  on  the  shelves,  among  jars  of  antipasto  and  an- 
chovies, cheeses  and  sausages  imported  from  Italy,  are  numerous 
statues  of  saints,  crucifixes  and  holy  pictures.  Statues,  too,  oc- 
cupy half  of  the  counter,  and  at  the  far  end  is  an  altar  in  which 
burn  crimson  vigil  lights  and  on  which  repose  statues  of  the 
Holy  Family.  Another  third  of  the  counter  is  colorfully  occu- 


Saint  Joseph's  Day  —  103 

pied  by  an  array  of  at  least  fifty  gaily  decorated  highball  glasses, 
filled  with  oil  and  floating  tapers,  some  always  burning,  having 
been  lighted  by  those  who  come  here  to  make  a  wish.  All  the 
walls  and  the  ceiling  above  are  covered  with  portraits  of  the 
Christ,  of  saints,  of  various  popes.  A  bowl  on  the  counter  offers 
Saint  Joseph's  beans,  and  another  bowl  receives  offerings  from 
anyone  wishing  to  drop  a  few  coins. 

Behind  this  is  the  'Roma  Room'  -—  really  the  dining-room  of 
the  establishment.  Over  the  two  doors  leading  into  it,  in  letters 
of  gold,  are  inscribed  the  words : 

HIS  HOLINESS  POPE  PIUS  XI  HAS  BESTOWED  ON  BIACCIO 
MONT  ALB  ANO,  DIRECTOR  OF  THE  ROMA  ROOM,   APOS- 
TOLIC  BENEDICTION   FOR  PRAYING   IN   CHURCH   1OOO 
HOURS  FOR  ZOOO  DAYS. 

All  the  walls  and  the  ceiling  are  here,  too,  colorfully  decorated 
with  holy  pictures.  Toward  the  top  of  the  walls,  completely  en- 
circling the  room,  is  the  '  Way  of  the  Cross, '  a  series  of  pictures 
depicting  Jesus'  journey  to  Calvary  and  the  Crucifixion.  Beneath 
this  is  a  varied  array  of  saints'  pictures,  photographs  of  several 
popes  and  high  dignitaries  of  the  Roman  Catholic  Church. 
Framing  the  pictures  on  the  ceiling  and  dangling  downward  are 
Christmas-tree  ornaments  of  every  shape  and  color.  And  at  every 
door  leading  from  the  Roma  Room  is  a  font  containing  holy 
water. 

A  large  radio  and  phonograph  combination  at  one  end  of  the 
room  is  converted  into  an  altar,  its  top  holding  statues  of  the 
Holy  Family,  its  front  and  sides  plastered  with  pictures.  Mr. 
Montalbano  owns  a  collection  of  recorded  sacred  and  classic 
music.  At  the  other  end  of  the  room  is  a  portrait  of  George 
Washington,  flanked  on  each  side  by  three  pairs  of  pictures:  the 
first,  identical  representations  of  'Peace';  the  second,  identical 
colored  chromos  of  the  Pope;  and  the  third,  identical  portraits  of 
Franklin  D.  Roosevelt.  On  one  wall  is  a  vivid  picture  in  bril- 
liant red  and  green  colors  of  a  pretty  and  voluptuous  Italian 
maid,  daintily  holding  a  bunch  of  yellow  bananas  in  one  plump 
hand. 

'We  sure  had  us  a  time!'  said  Mrs.  Rose  Datri.    'I  cooked 


104  — 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 


thirty-two  pounds  of  spaghetti.  You  should  have  seen  the  cere- 
mony at  my  altar.  It  was  grand !  We  had  saints  —  three  poor 
children  from  the  neighborhood  —  to  knock  on  two  different 
doors  in  the  yard,  coming  to  our  door  last.  Mamma  asked  who 
they  were.  They  answered,  "Jesus,  Mary  and  Joseph,'*  and 
Mamma  threw  the  door  wide.  Then  everybody  kissed  the  hand 
of  "Jesus"  and  made  a  wish.  When  they  sat  down  we  fed  them 
orange  slices  to  break  their  fast,  and  after  that  they  ate  some  of 
everything  on  the  altar.  One  of  the  little  boys  ate  so  much  he 
got  sick.  No,  I  can't  remember  if  it  was  "Jesus"  or  "Joseph." 

The  ceremony  at  the  home  of  Mrs.  Vita  Alphonse  differed 
slightly.  At  noon  a  knock  came  on  the  door. 

'No,  there  is  no  shelter  here,'  someone  called  through  the 
door,  in  soft  Italian.  (This  is  an  enactment  of  the  Holy  Family 
seeking  shelter  in  wayside  inns.) 

Again  the  knock  came,  and  the  answer  was  the  same,  'No, 
there  is  no  shelter  here.' 

The  third  knock  was  answered:  'Who  is  it?' 

'I  am  Saint  Joseph,'  came  the  reply.  '  I  seek  shelter  for  Mary, 
Jesus  and  Saint  Albert.' 

Then,  amidst  cries  of  welcome,  'Enter!  Enter!  We  are  deeply 
honored!'  the  quartet  was  admitted. 

The  mother  of  the  household  knelt  and  prayed,  her  eyes  fixed 
on  the  statue  in  the  center  of  the  altar. 

'Oh,  Saint  Joseph,  help  us!  Saint  Joseph,  protect  us!  Saint 
Joseph,  we  love  you!  Saint  Joseph,  we  give  thanks  for  all  our 
blessings ! 

'Our  Father,  who  art  in  Heaven.    Hallowed  be  thy  name.v. 

'Hail,  Mary,  Mother  of  God 

The  'saints'  ate.    Then  the  family  and  friends. 

The  Sacred  Heart  Orphanage  has  an  altar,  the  entire  audito- 
rium being  utilized  for  this  purpose.  At  one  side  of  the  room  is  a 
life-sized  statue  of  Saint  Joseph,  surrounded  by  large  and  small 
tapers,  candelabra  and  vases  filled  with  white  Easter  lilies. 
Besides  the  usual  delectable  foods  on  the  altar,  there  were  long 
tables  holding  piles  of  Italian  bread,  fashioned  in  all  sorts  of 
figures,  including  twists,  braid,  crosses,  circles  and  crescents, 
and  bundles  of  spaghetti,  macaroni  and  cavatuni  tied  together 


Saint  Joseph's  Day 

with  blue  satin  bows.  Stacked  on  the  floor  near  the  tables  were 
sacks  of  sugar,  rice,  beans  and  flour.  This  altar  is  donated  each 
year  by  Mr.  and  Mrs.  Lawrence  Orlando.  Some  of  the  food, 
however,  is  contributed  by  other  people.  Everything  is  retained 
for  the  children  of  the  orphanage. 

One  of  the  Italian  nuns  here  was  much  impressed  at  having  her 
picture  taken  near  the  altar. 

'If  I  look  fat  in  my  face,'  she  confided,  Til  send  it  to  my 
mamma  in  Italy.  If  I  look  skinny  in  my  face,  I  won't.  She  wor- 
ries for  me.' 

Similar  is  the  altar  -at  the  Cabrini  Day  Nursery.  For  years  this 
altar  has  been  given  by  Mr.  Peter  Orlando,  brother  of  the  donor 
of  the  one  at  the  Sacred  Heart  Orphanage.  Here,  too,  the  food  is 
kept  for  the  children. 

Curious  is  the  adoption  of  this  Italian  custom  by  New  Orleans 
Negroes.  The  Item  Tribune,  March  17,  1940,  announced:  'Elab- 
orate preparations  have  been  made  in  the  Negro  spiritualist 
churches  for  Saint  Joseph's  Day.  Among  the  churches  taking 
part  are  the  Saint  Joseph  Helping  Hand  Spiritualist,  Algiers;  the 
Eternal  Love  Christian  Spiritualist,  Clio  Street;  Saint  James 
Temple  No.  7,  Felicity  near  Freret;  Star  of  the  East,  Constanti- 
nople and  Saratoga  Streets;  and  Saint  Paul  No.  7,  Saratoga  near 
Thalia  Street.' 

Reverend  Maude  Shannon  says  it  was  a  divine  call  that  made 
her  build  the  first  Saint  Joseph's  altar  for  Negroes  fourteen  years 
ago. 

'I  come  out  of  my  door  that  mornin','  says  Reverend  Maude, 
'  and  I  heared  a  voice  talkin'  to  me  just  as  plain  as  if  there 'd  been 
someone  walkin'  by  my  side.  The  voice  says  I  must  get  together 
the  sisters  of  the  church,  and  we  must  gather  candles  and  cakes 
and  make  an  altar  for  Saint  Joseph's  Day.  So  I  threw  out  my 
hands  to  show  the  voice  I  done  heared  its  words,  and  I  called  the 
sisters  together  and  we  went  out  with  baskets  to  gather  the  food 
for  our  flock.' 

Reverend  Shannon  is  head  of  an  independent  Negro  church, 
the  Daniel  Helping  Hand  Mission,  but  her  altars  exhibit  no  radi- 
cal departures  from  the  ones  of  the  Roman  Catholic  Italians,  even 
including  among  the  altar  foods  antipasto,  Italian  salads  and 


106 —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

pineapple  cakes.  Reverend  Shannon  indicated  can  after  can  of 
food,  candy,  fruit,  bowls  of -potato  salad  and  hard-boiled  eggs 
split  in  half  and  stuffed  with  pickle  and  yellow  egg  yolks. 

'Sometimes  when  I  had  my  first  altars,'  she  said,  'I'd  get 
scared  they  ain't  got  enough  food  on  'em  for  all  the  peoples 
what's  comin'.  One  time  when  I  was  givin'  it  out  to  the  poor, 
there  is  so  many  peoples,  I  don't  know  what  to  do.  I  started 
prayin'  to  the  Lord  the  whole  time  I  was  passin'  out  the  stuff. 
And  the  good  Lord  must've  heared  me,  'cause  the  faster  I  gived 
it  away,  the  more  food  there  is,  and  after  all  them  peoples  is  fed, 
there  is  still  more,  so  we  just  puts  that  in  baskets  and  sends  it  to 
the  orphans.  Then  I  thanked  the  Lord  for  his  timely  aid,  and 
went  to  bed.' 

Though  she  won't  discuss  it,  there  is  a  rumor  that  the  money 
to  pay  for  the  Reverend  Shannon's  altars  is  contributed  by  the 
gamblers  in  her  section  of  the  city.  They  come  to  get  the  lucky 
beans  and  leave  money  behind. 

But  Saint  Joseph's  Day,  with  its  altars,  celebrations  and  reli- 
gious ceremonies,  belongs  to  the  Italians.  And  the  altars  are  by 
no  means  confined  to  New  Orleans,  though  they  are  perhaps 
more  numerous  and  more  elaborate  there,  but  may  be  found  in  all 
sections  of  Louisiana  where  Italians  reside. 

Proof  of  their  devotion  to  this  saint  is  the  fact  that  a  recent 
tabulation  of  names  given  to  boys  in  New  Orleans  showed  that 
'Joseph'  was  far  in  the  lead  of  all  others  and  had  been  for  a  num- 
ber of  years.  Perhaps  Saint  Joseph's  appeal  to  them  lies  largely 
in  their  knowledge  that  he  was  one  of  the  common,  hard- 
working people  of  the  world  like  the  vast  majority  of  mankind. 
Someone  in  the  Times-Picayune  of  March  13,  1937,  framed  it  in 
these  words: 

Saint  Joseph  is  loved  by  his  followers  as  a  man  among  men, 
a  carpenter  who  worked  as  men  must  work,  who  grew  hot  and 
tired  as  ordinary  people  do,  who  smashed  his  thumb  with  his 
hammer  and  got  splinters  in  his  hands  —  and  yet  was  deemed 
worthy  to  live  as  the  husband  of  the  Mother  of  God. 


Chapter  6 


Saint  Rosalia's  Day 


Saint  Rosalia  was  daughter  of  a  noble  family  descended  from  Charle- 
magne. She  was  born  at  Palermo  in  Sicily,  and  despising  in  her  youth 
earthly  vanities,  made  herself  an  abode  in  a  cave  on  Monte  Pelegrino, 
three  miles  from  Palermo,  where  she  completed  the  sacrifice  of  her 
heart  to  God  by  austere  penance  and  manual  labor,  sanctified  by  assidu- 
ous prayer  and  the  constant  union  of  her  soul  with  God.  She  died  in 
1 1 60.  Her  body  was  found  buried  in  a  grot  under  the  mountain,  in  the 
year  of  the  jubilee,  1615,  under  Pope  Urban  VIII,  and  was  translated 
into  the  metropolitical  church  of  Palermo,  of  which  she  was  chosen  a 
patroness.  To  her  patronage  that  island  ascribes  the  ceasing  of  a  griev- 
ous pestilence  at  the  same  time. 

From  Lives  of  the  Saints 
By  John  Gilmary  Shea,  LL.D. 

'YOU  SEE;  EXPLAINED  MRS.  ALES,  WITH  TEARS  IN 

her  eyes  and  a  nervous  tug  at  her  sunbonnet,  'was  like  this. 
Saint  Rosalia  is  a  beautiful  young  girl.  Her  papa  is  afraid  she's 
gonna  be  a  old  maid,  and  he  want  her  to  get  married.  Me,  I  can't 
remember  her  mamma's  name,  but  her  papa's  name  is  Ricaldo, 
and  he  is  a  king.  But  she  don't  want  to  get  married.  She  wants 
to  be  pure  and  stay  a  virgin.  All  the  time  they  is  fight.  He  want 
to  and  she  don't  want  to.  One  day  she  is  combin'  her  hair  in  her 


io8  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

room,  and  her  crucifix  start  talkin'  to  her.  They  make  plans,  and 
that  night  an  angel  come  and  take  her  up  on  top  a  mountain. 
No  one,  not  even  her  papa,  knows  where  she's  at! 

'She  die,  and  still  nobody  don't  know  where  she's  at.  Long 
time  after  there  is  like  a  plague  in  Palermo.  Then  a  young  man 
see  Saint  Rosalia  in  a  dream,  and  he  tell  the  people  they  find  her 
poor  bones  everybody  what  ain't  dead  yet  gonna  get  well.  They 
go  up  on  the  mountain  and  bring  her  bones  down.  Then  every- 
body happy.'  Mrs.  Ales  blew  her  nose  vigorously. 

About  fifty  years  old,  but  with  white  hair  and  eyes  startlingly 
blue  for  an  Italian,  Mrs.  Anna  Ales  is  a  resident  of  Harvey,  Lou- 
isiana, where  one  of  the  state's  two  Saint  Rosalia  processions  is 
held  annually.  Wearing  a  starched  sunbonnet  and  a  dress  almost 
to  her  ankles,  she  proudly  exhibited  some  of  the  exquisitely 
embroidered  linens  she  had  just  laundered  for  the  Saint  Rosalia 
Church  in  Harvey,  explaining  that  she  intended  to  work  for  the 
Church  all  her  life.  She  made  a  vow  to  do  that  in  1918,  when  the 
influenza  epidemic  swept  through  Harvey.  That  was  the  begin- 
ning of  the  celebration  of  the  saint  in  that  town. 

'Everybody  was  sick,'  said  Mrs.  Ales.  'We  asked  Saint  Ro- 
salia to  stop  the  plague,  and  the  plague  stopped,  so  we  promise 
to  hold  a  procession  just  like  in  Palermo  and  in  Kenner.  Me,  I 
had  my  mother  and  sister  sick,  and  I  was  like  crazy.  All  the  time 
I  cry  and  cry.  Like  that,  soon  as  I  make  my  promise,  they  get 
well.  Was  same  thing  when  I  was  dyin'.  I  had  three  operations, 
nine  doctors;  nothing  do  me  no  good.  I  ask  Saint  Rosalia  for 
help,  and,  like  that,  I  was  well. 

'  We  do  all  the  work  here  ourselfs.  Cook  the  food  for  the  fes- 
tival, make  crowns  for  the  angels,  everything.  Me,  I  make  all 
the  angels'  crowns.'  She  showed  a  small  wreath  of  silver-paper 
leaves.  'I  tell  you  the  truth,  sometimes  I  get  so  tired  making 
crowns  for  angels,  I  almost  scream  my  head  off!  They  got  two' 
hundred  of  'em,  and,  me,  I  started  that  idea!  They  got  about  a 
hundred  little  boys,  too,  they  call  acolytes,  but  they  ain't  no 
angels.' 

The  Harvey  celebration  takes  place  either  the  first  or  the  sec- 
ond Sunday  in  the  month  of  September;  on  the  other  Sunday  an- 
other procession  is  held  at  Kenner,  Louisiana.  The  events  occur 


Saint  Rosalia's  Day  —  109 

on  different  dates  because  of  the  proximity  of  the  villages  to  each 
other,  Harvey  being  just  across  the  Mississippi  from  New  Or- 
leans, Kenner  about  ten  miles  above  the  city.  One  year  one  town 
has  its  celebration  first,  the  following  year  the  other.  This  not 
only  keeps  the  peace,  but  allows  each  to  attend  the  other.  Any- 
way, Saint  Rosalia's  Day  is  actually  established  as  September  4. 

Harvey  begins  the  celebration  with  a  festival  and  bazaar  in 
the  churchyard  the  Saturday  night  before.  Sunday  morning 
there  is  High  Mass,  and  that  afternoon  all  who  make  the  pil- 
grimage meet  at  Saint  Joseph's  Church  in  Gretna  at  one-thirty. 
From  here  they  walk  the  two  miles  to  Harvey,  carrying  a  life- 
sized  statue  of  the  saint,  who  in  this  representation  wears  blue 
and  white  robes,  a  wreath  of  flowers  about  her  flowing  brown 
hair,  carries  a  skull  and  prayer  book  in  one  hand  and  a  crucifix 
and  lily  in  the  other,  and  is  set  on  a  wooden  base  with  long 
trestles,  requiring  the  services  of  a  dozen  bearers. 

The  day  of  the  1941  celebration  she  wore  an  additional  wreath 
of  real  flowers  and  her  ankles  were  banked  with  bouquets 
brought  by  the  worshipers ;  from  her  shoulders  dripped  streamers 
of  red,  green  and  golden  satin  to  which  was  pinned  paper  money, 
this  being  another  custom  of  the  occasion.  As  she  was  borne 
from  the  church,  Frank  De  Salvo,  president  of  the  Victor 
Emmanuel  III  Society,  stepped  forward,  unpinned  the  bills,  and 
made  notations  in  a  book.  While  he  was  engaged  in  this,  women 
crowded  forward,  many  with  tears  striping  their  cheeks,  mum- 
bled prayers,  and  laid  gnarled,  work  worn  fingers  on  the  hem  of 
the  image's  plaster  robes,  and  on  her  feet.  '  We  have  to  park  the 
statue  outside  the  churches  at  both  the  beginning  and  the  end  of 
the  pilgrimage,'  explained  Mr.  De  Salvo,  'so  the  people  can 
touch  it  and  ask  favors.' 

But  this  was  quickly  over,  and  the  procession  took  formation 
out  in  the  street :  first,  Boy  Scout  Troop  2.00,  with  a  large  Ameri- 
can flag  at  the  head;  then  Father  Wester,  pastor  of  Saint  Jo- 
seph's Church,  flanked  by  a  half-dozen  altar  boys;  next  the  ban- 
ners of  the  organizations  taking  part  —  '  Victor  Emmanuel  III 
Society,  Harvey,  La.,'  read  one;  'Organization  Italiana  San 
Guiseppe  di  Amesville,  La.,'  another;  finally  'Fratellanza  Itali- 
ana di  Santa  Rosalia,  Kenner,  La.,'  revealing  the  presence  of 


no  — 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 


members  of  the  organization  which  would  hold  its  celebration  on 
the  Sunday  to  come.  Behind  these  came  the  thirteen-piece  Roma 
Band,  with  Saint  Rosalia  and  her  bearers  following. 

After  this  marched  two  hundred  little  girls,  all  less  than  five 
years  of  age,  all  dressed  alike  in  white  dresses  with  stiff  little 
wings  attached  to  their  shoulders  and  Mrs.  Ales's  crowns  on 
their  heads.  All  were  very  angelic,  keeping  their  hands  clasped 
before  them,  and  praying  loudly.  The  acolytes  marched  next, 
half  as  many  small  boys  of  the  same  ages,  dressed  in  white  robes, 
blue  capes  and  white  skull  caps.  Not  so  pious,  these  were  in- 
clined to  push  and  shove  and  giggle.  Finally  one  in  the  rear  re- 
leased a  particularly  audible  howl,  and  a  red-faced  stout  woman 
rushed  forward,  gave  his  shoulders  a  shake,  scolded  in  Italian, 
then  vanished  to  the  rear,  making  the  sign  of  the  cross. 

Next  came  the  Children  of  Mary,  an. order  of  girls  of  adoles- 
cent years,  all  in  snowy  white  with  flowing  veils  of  ethereal 
blue.  These  recited  'Hail  Marys'  over  and  over,  one  tall,  thin, 
very  dark  girl  serving  as  leader.  Her  voice  high  above  the  rest, 
it  was  always  she  who  began  each  new  line  of  the  prayer,  and  in 
the  same  sing-song  tempo.  Each  of  the  Children  of  Mary  carried 
a  paper  fan  advertising  the  'Rotollo  Motor  Company/ 

The  men  followed,  most  of  them  in  white  linen.  After  them 
were  the  women,  who,  though  they  walked  behind  their  men, 
did  not  trail  humbly,  but  marched  proudly,  most  of  them  well 
fed  and  of  comfortable  ages,  nearly  all  carrying  umbrellas  as  sun- 
shades. Many  of  them  were  barefooted  or  in  their  stockings. 
Two  State  motorcycle  policemen  took  the  lead,  and  immediately 
there  was  a  buzz  of  conversation  and  verbal  expression  of  last- 
minute  thoughts. 

'Anthony,  you  carry  my  shoes!' 

'Carry  'em  yourself.   I  ain't  no  mule.' 

The  ringing  voice  of  a  long  dark  girl :  '  Blessed  art  thou  among 
women . . .  / ' 

'Gladys,  where'd  you  leave  the  car?' 

'My  Gawd!   I  don't  know,  me!' 

The  Child  of  Mary:  '  Fruit  of  thy  womb  .  . .  /' 

An  irreligious  youth  perched  on  a  bread  box  before  a  grocery 
called  out,  'Look  at  de  Mardi  Gras  parade!' 


Saint  Rosalia  s  Day  —  in 

1  Here  comes  de  second  float !'  announced  a  pal  lounging  against 
a  post. 

'Blessed  art  thou  among  women  . . .  /'   The  long  dark  girl. 

The  angels  burst  into  song.  The  acolytes  giggled.  The  men 
talked.  The  women,  rosaries  entwined  in  their  fingers,  prayed, 
or  gossiped,  or  sang;  a  few  wept  steadily.  Many  cars  trailed  the 
pilgrims,  moving  at  a  snail's  pace.  There  was,  literally,  much 
color.  The  president,  the  grand  marshal  and  the  marshals  all 
wore  red,  white  and  green  ribbons  across  their  chests;  the  bearers 
of  the  statue,  white  duck  trousers  and  green  tunics  trimmed  with 
gold  braid.  Two  others,  not  carrying,  but  walking,  one  on  each 
side,  wore  white  trousers  and  deep  purple  tunics.  A  stout  little 
marshal  with  fierce  mustaches  wore  an  immense  round  badge 
that  resembled  an  old-fashioned  bouquet,  of  red,  pink  and  yellow 
paper  roses  finished  off  with  wide  streamers  of  red,  green  and 
white  satin. 

Two  men  argued  loudly  over  the  fact  for  the  first  time  the  flag 
of  Italy  was  not  carried.  Each  had  an  excellent,  though  sophis- 
tic argument,  one  stating  that  'the  Catholic  Church  is  really 
Italian,  since  Rome  is  in  Italy,  and  the  Pope  is  Italian,  and  he  is 
in  Rome,  and  most  everybody  in  Harvey  is  Italian,  so  Harvey  is 
Italian,  and  Saint  Rosalia  is  Italian,  etc.,  etc.'  What,  he  de- 
manded, did  Mussolini  have  to  do  with  it?  '  Saint  Peter  was  Ital- 
ian, too,'  he  concluded,  a  bit  triumphantly. 

'  You  alia  time  wanta  be  a  damn  dago!'  said  the  other.  ' Har- 
vey is  American,  and  you  are  American,  and  now  Saint  Rosalia 
is  American,  and  Saint  Peter  was  never  no  Italian.  He  was  a 
Jew!' 

The  first  man  said  he  wished  he  had  a  beer. 

There  were  stops  for  icewater  from  pitchers  and  glasses  set  out 
before  the  picket  fences  along  the  way.  The  bus  came  along, 
got  'stuck'  in  the  middle  of  the  marchers,  and  there  was  a  noisy 
exchange  of  wisecracks  between  the  passengers  and  the  pilgrims. 
But  at  last  —  the  bus  still  in  the  middle  —  the  procession 
reached  Harvey,  and  here  the  street  leading  to  the  church,  and 
the  church  itself,  were  elaborately  decorated  with  flags  and  ban- 
ners. The  banquettes  were  lined  with  people  crying  greetings. 
As  the  procession  reached  the  church,  the  bells  clanged  and 


ii2  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

banged,  a  cannon  went  off  with  a  great  roar;  there  was  a  crack- 
ling, explosive  din  of  firecrackers.  Puffs  of  black  smoke  drifted 
over  the  heads  of  the  marchers. 

'  Blessed  art  tbou  among  women  . . ./ '  screamed  the  long  dark  girl, 
with  renewed  vigor. 

Boy  Scout  Troop  2.00  lined  the  walk  leading  to  the  church,  and 
here  Saint  Rosalia  was  'parked*  for  another  few  minutes,  and 
the  women  came  forward  to  touch  the  statue,  and  pray,  and  weep. 
The  fireworks  grew  louder  and  louder.  The  Roma  Band  climbed 
to  a  platform  in  the  churchyard  and  began  to  play.  Already  the 
grounds  were  filled  with  people  buying  and  gambling  at  the 
bazaars.  In  a  room  which  was  a  wing  of  the  church  proper,  a 
juke  box  was  going  full  blast,  and  several  young  people  were 
dancing.  Here  tables  and  chairs  were  set  up,  where  later  meat- 
balls and  spaghetti  and  steaming  bowls  of  gumbo  would  be  sold. 

Saint  Rosalia  was  unscrewed  from  her  base  and  carried  into  the 
church,  the  fat  little  man  with  the  mustaches  and  the  old- 
fashioned  bouquet  badge  running  excitedly  up  and  down  the 
aisle,  supervising  operations,  as  the  statue  was  carefully  replaced 
in  the  niche  it  occupies  all  year.  The  church  was  jammed  with 
the  devotees,  all  incongruously  mingling  the  festive  spirit  of  the 
day  with  much  genuflecting  and  holy-water  sprinkling,  as  Father 
Wester  stepped  before  the  altar  and  began  the  Benediction. 

This  over,  the  bazaars  did  a  rushing  business,  selling  drinks, 
sandwiches  and  candy;  cakes  and  baskets  of  groceries  were  raf- 
fled. Everyone  had  a  fine  time.  The  celebration  lasted  until  mid- 
night, closing  with  a  great  display  of  fireworks,  during  which 
a  huge  representation  of  the  saint  whose  day  was  being  honored 
was  sent  flashing  against  the  night  sky. 

Mrs.  Zito,  one  of  Saint  Rosalia's  most  enthusiastic  admirers  in 
Kenner,  was  unusually  excited  a  few  days  before  the  celebration 
in  that  village.  In  fact,  Mr.  Zito  was  outside  their  grocery,  tak- 
ing some  fresh  air,  possibly  because  the  atmosphere  within  was 
too  electric.  'Mamma  knows  all  about  Saint  Rosalia's  Day,'  he 
admitted .  '  Mamma ! ' 

There  was  the  slap-slap  sound  of  loose  slippers,  and  Mrs.  Zito 
appeared,  a  short  and  stout  woman  with  a  great  pile  of  graying 


Saint  Rosalia's  Day  —  n $ 

hair  and  a  kindly  face.  This  morning  she  wore  a  house  dress  as 
loose  as  the  slippers  on  her  naked  feet,  and  twin  rivers  of  perspi- 
ration streamed  from  her  temples.  '  It  depends  on  what  you  gotta 
know,'  said  Mrs.  Zito  modestly.  'That  is  the  whole  thing. 
First,  I  gotta  know  what  you  gotta  know.' 

Mrs.  Zito's  grocery  is  unusual  —  one  tremendous  room,  with 
walls  and  floor  of  broad  unpainted  boards.  At  one  end  are  the 
counter  and  shelves,  at  the  other  long  benches,  a  sewing  machine 
and  a  juke  box.  Between  is  enough  space  to  hold  a  Carnival 
ball.  Even  now  the  music  box  was  offering  '  Fan  It !'  with  Woody 
Herman  and  His  Orchestra  giving  their  all.  Mr.  Zito  executed  a 
few  dance  steps. 

'  Looka  my  jellybean !'  roared  Mrs.  Zito.  '  I  tell  you,  Papa  is  a 
kick !  We  got  us  fourteen  children  —  two  dead  —  and  look  how 
little  Papa  is.  You  would  not  believe  it,  huh,  to  look  at  him?' 
Unlike  his  spouse,  Mr.  Zito  is  the  size  and  weight  of  a  twelve- 
year-old  boy.  Now  he  grinned  with  embarrassment,  ceased 
dancing,  and  vanished  behind  the  case  containing  meats. 

Mrs.  Zito  leaned  back  comfortably  in  the  room's  one  rocker. 
'Every  year  when  the  parade  passes  here,  I  make  my  spich,'  she 
said.  '  I  been  makin'  it  for  four  years.  I  say  four  years,  but  maybe 
is  more.  Papa,  is  it  four  years  I  been  makin'  my  spich?' 

Papa's  eyes,  nearly  bald  skull  and  wispy  white  mustache  ap- 
peared around  the  edge  of  the  meat  case.  'Is  more  than  four 
years!'  he  yelled  across  the  big  room. 

'Papa  says  is  more  than  four  years,'  asserted  Mrs.  Zito. 

'Is  much  more  than  four  years,'  Mr.  Zito  reiterated. 

'Is  much  more  than  four  years,'  Mrs.  Zito  echoed.  'Maybe  is 
five-six  years.  I  cannot  tell  you.  What  I  say  in  my  spich?  That 
is  also  a  thing  I  cannot  tell  you.  You  cannot  say  it  in  American, 
see?  Is  got  to  be  word  for  word.  It  is  too  beautiful.  My  God, 
it  is  beautiful!'  Mrs.  Zito  wiped  her  streaming  brow  with  a 
handkerchief.  '  Maybe  sometime  my  daughter  is  transpose  it  to 
American  for  you.' 

4  No  can  be  done !'  Mr.  Zito  crossed  the  room.  '  They  is  not  got 
the  American  words  for  the  Italian  words.  It  is  too  beautiful.' 

'Papa  says  it  is  too  beautiful,'  said  Mrs.  Zito.  'You  see,  I  say 
two  pieces.  No!  No!  Not  one.  Two  pieces.  I  tell  you  the 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

truth,  they  is  so  beautiful  everybody  cry  to  beat  the  ba*id.' 

She  was  weeping  now,  and  had  to  touch  her  handkerchief  to 
her  eyes.  'All  I  can  say  is  this,'  she  sighed.  'Santa  Rosalia  go 
up  on  the  mountain  all  by  herself.  You  see,  she  is  so  young  and 
innocent,  and  she  suffer  and  suffer.  I  tell  the  peoples  that  in  my 
spich,  see?  She  isa  up  on  this  mountain,  and  the  Devil  he  come 
and  tackle  her.  Everywhere  she  go,  the  Devil  he  keep  tacklin' 
her.  At  last  she  run  away,  but  he  catch  her,  and  tackle  her  again. 
And  then  she  fall  on  her  knees,  and  the  Devil  he  look  at  her,  and 
he  say  he  could  not  tackle  her  to  save  his  life.  She  is  look  so  pure 
and  innocent  he  could  not  do  nothing,  see?  My  mamma  tell  me 
all  about  it.  Sure.  And  her  mamma  tell  her.  That's  a  way  we 
believe,  see?  And  that's  like  I  say  in  my  two  pieces,  only  is  so 
beautiful  in  Italian  nobody  can  stand  it,  they  all  cry  to  beat  the 
band!' 

Mrs.  Zito  was  weeping  profusely  now,  but  she  stopped, 
sniffed,  turned  toward  the  screen  door  leading  to  the  living- 
quarters  behind  the  store.  'Francis!'  she  cried  loudly,  'did  you 
watch  the  pot  on  the  stove?  Put  a  glass  of  water  in  it.  It's  the 
beans,  Francis?'  There  was  no  answer,  but  evidently  all  was  as 
it  should  be,  for  she  murmured:  'Excuse  me,  pliz!  What  was  I 
saying? 

'You  know  when  I'm  makin'  my  spich  I  don't  hardly  know 
what  I  doin',  I  tell  you  the  truth.  All  I  got  on  my  mind  is  my 
two  pieces.  Every  year  we  ask  for  the  grace.  That  is  our  belief. 
You  see,  Santa  Rosalia  cannot  do  nothing  herself.  No.  You  ask 
her  for  the  grace,  see?  Then  she  go  ask  God.  She  tella  God  what 
you  want.  God  shake  His  head  "yes!"  you  get  it!  But  God 
shake  His  head  "no!"  you  outa  luck.  That's  a  way  we  believe, 
see? 

Tma  be  the  stuff  Sunday,  too,'  concluded  Mrs.  Zito,  blowing 
her  nose  exuberantly.  Tma  be  dressed  up  like  a  jellybean.  Hot 
dog!'  She  gazed  upon  the  diminutive  Mr.  Zito.  'Papa  better  be 
careful.  Maybe  I  get  me  a  new  jellybean.'  At  this  both  she  and 
Papa  Zito  roared  with  laughter. 

Kenner's  Saint  Rosalia  procession  began  in  1899,  after  a  prom- 
ise made  to  the  saint  for  her  proficiency  in  stopping  a  plague  of 
charbon,  which  was  destroying  the  cattle  and  mules  so  essential 


Saint  Rosalia  s  Day  — .  115 

to  the  livelihood  of  the  Italian  farmers  of  the  vicinity.  August 
Christina,  president  of  the  '  Fratellanza  Italiana  Society, '  which 
has  charge  of  the  event,  was  happy  to  give  a  brief  history  of  the 
affair. 

'You  see,'  he  explained,  'it  started  back  in  Palermo  years  and 
years  ago.  I  don't  know  how  many  years  ago.  It  was  in  the 
olden  times.  Rosalia  hid  in  a  cave  on  a  mountain,  and  maybe 
three,  four  hundred  years  after,  they  found  her.  I  believe  she 
was  dead,  but  her  bones  was  intact.  She  had  always  cured  pes- 
tilences. That's  why  people  here  walk  barefooted  and  all  every 
year.  She  stopped  the  charbon  in  1899.  We  have  a  real  big 
crowd  now;  there  were  over  seven  thousand  last  year.' 

Walking  barefooted  or  in  stockings,  carrying  lighted  candles 
-  which  are  placed  in  the  church  at  the  end  of  the  procession  — 
and  donating  money  are  the  principal  ways  of  repaying  Saint 
Rosalia  for  favors  granted.  But  Mr.  Christina  said: ' They  prom- 
ise all  sorts  of  things,  and  whatever  they  promise  they  do.  You 
have  to  give  'em  that.  Sometimes  they're  hard  to  do,  too.' 

Mrs.  Genovese  is  one  of  Kenner's  oldest  residents.  She  took 
part  in  the  first  procession  and  in  every  one  since.  Mrs.  Genovese 
was  'in  the  city,  but  she  be  back  Sunday,'  according  to  her 
daughter,  a  stout  middle-aged  woman,  who  swayed  back  and 
forth  in  her  rocking  chair  as  she  talked. 

'  You  better  talk  to  me,'  she  advised.  ' My  poor  mamma  could 
not  do  you  no  good.  You  no  understand  nothing  she  say.  She 
is  Italian. 

'Sure.  I  been  in  the  prossession  lots  of  times.  My  mamma 
never  miss  one  since  it  start.  See,  we  believe  like  that.  American 
peoples  is  superstitious.  They  don't  think  like  us,  see?  But  this 
year,  me,  I  don't  even  want  to  see  the  prossession.  I  justa  lost 
my  husband,  and  I  can't  stand  nothin'  like  festival  —  or  nothin'. 
They  ask  for  all  sorts  of  things  —  like  jobs,  cure  illness.  Looka 
Mrs.  Verde.  You  know  she  is  Joseph  Santopadre's  daughter.  He 
live  here,  but  she  live  in  New  Orleans.  She  was  dying.  Sure. 
The  doctor  chop  her  open,  look  inside,  send  her  home  to  die. 
Other  doctors  come  look  at  her,  say  she  ought  to  be  dead,  but 
she  ain't  dead.  Her  papa  promise  Saint  Rosalia  a  pair  of  dia- 
mond earrings  she  get  well.  This  year  she  walk  in  the  proces- 


n6 •• —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

sion.  Sure.  Is  all  wonderful  to  us,  but  I  know  American  people 
is  superstitious.' 

And  Mrs.  Verde  was  happy  to  talk  about  herself,  her  operation 
and  her  miraculous  cure,  though  she  revealed  an  unexpected 
angle  to  the  last  occurrence. 

'My  father  made  the  promise  to  Saint  Rosalia,'  she  explained. 
'He  has  great  faith  in  her,  but'  —  and  here  Mrs.  Verde  leaned 
forward  and  spoke  almost  in  a  whisper  —  'personally,  just  be- 
tween you  and  me,  I  think  it  was  Mother  Cabrini  who  cured  me. 
I've  always  had  much  better  results  from  her.  In  any  case,  it  was 
wonderful,  a  real  miracle.  I  was  literally  eaten  away  with  can- 
cer. Practically  no  insides  left  at  all.  Of  course,  I  shall  walk  in 
the  procession  Sunday,  and  I  shall  give  thanks  to  Saint  Rosalia 
for  my  cure  —  through  Mother  Cabrini,  my  favorite,  beautiful 
saint.' 

Despite  torrential  rains  the  morning  and  early  afternoon  of  the 
1941  celebration,  people  filled  the  church  in  Kenner  as  the  start- 
ing hour  of  3  P.M.  neared.  Practically  all  of  Kenner  and  neigh- 
boring settlements  seemed  to  be  present.  Many  people  from  New 
Orleans  journey  to  the  village  to  take  part  or  to  view  the  event. 
All  day  the  highway  is  lined  with  cars,  and  many  ride  the  '  Ken- 
ner Shakedown,'  the  name  given  the  little  sky-blue  bus  running 
between  the  two  places  each  half-hour. 

At  the  entrance  to  the  elaborately  decorated  church,  men  sold 
white  silk  badges  for  an  offering  and  large  pictures  depicting 
Saint  Rosalia  appearing  in  a  vision  to  the  young  man  who  first 
saw  her.  These  last  were  marked  definitely  at  ten  cents  each. 
Many  women  entered  carrying  large  candles;  soon  the  church 
aisles  were  crowded  with  them,  waiting  a  turn  to  kneel  before 
the  statue,  already  on  its  base  and  trestle  before  the  altar. 

Kenner's  Saint  Rosalia,  slightly  smaller  than  Harvey's,  wears 
a  green  garment  partly  covered  with  a  golden  robe,  a  short  lav- 
ender mantle,  and  a  wreath  of  flowers.  She  carries  the  skull  and 
the  crucifix,  and  for  this  occasion  her  head  was  adorned  with  a 
bejeweled  crown,  and  streamers  hung  from  throat  and  wrists,  to 
which  much  paper  money  had  already  been  pinned.  Concealed 
in  flowers  banked  about  the  feet  was  a  receptacle  for  coins. 

Upon  reaching  her  the  women  made  their  offerings  —  pinned 


Saint  Rosalia's  Day  —  /// 

bills  to  the  streamers  or  dropped  coins  —  then  knelt  in  prayer. 
Each,  before  moving  on,  would  lay  a  hand  tenderly  upon  the 
statue's  feet  or  robes.  Then  they  stepped  to  the  side  where  a 
nun,  assisted  by  two  young  girls,  was  busy  collecting  more 
money  and  making  notations  in  a  book  each  time  she  received  a 
contribution.  In  return,  the  young  ladies  were  busy  handing  out 
small  candles,  which  were  lighted  and  placed  on  a  stand  at  one 
side.  Each  of  these,  however,  was  allowed  to  burn  only  for  two 
or  three  minutes,  then  extinguished  and  tossed  into  a  box  be- 
neath the  stand,  to  make  room  for  a  new  one.  They  are  supposed 
to  be  relighted  and  burned  on  other  days.  The  church  resounded 
with  the  clinking  of  coins  as  the  nun  dropped  the  money  into 
another  box. 

As  time  passed  the  crowd  became  almost  a  milling  mob,  nearly 
all  of  them  women.  They  lined  every  aisle,  packed  into  the  rear 
of  the  church,  knelt  two  deep  at  the  altar  railing.  They  strug- 
gled to  get  close  to  the  statue,  to  purchase  candles  from  the  nun. 
In  the  rear  a  baby  bawled  ceaselessly.  There  were  the  smells  of 
garlic  and  cosmetics.  Women  reassured  each  other  —  and  them- 
selves —  regarding  the  weather.  One  said  loudly:  'It  won't  rain 
on  her  when  she  gets  out  there.  She'd  stop  a  storm.' 

Women  wept  —  an  old,  old  woman,  in  trailing  black  skirts,  a 
black  sunbonnet,  with  only  one  eye,  from  which  tears  flowed 
constantly  —  a  fat  woman,  holding  a  huge  candle  in  one  fist,  an 
umbrella  in  the  other. 

At  three-twenty-five  fireworks  began  to  go  off  outside  the 
church,  and  amidst  the  intonations  the  'Fratellanza  Italiana' 
came  up  the  aisle,  one  commit teeman  carrying  the  society's  large 
green  banner.  All  wore  badges  and  emblems  of  some  sort,  mostly 
wide  ribbons  of  red,  green  and  white  across  their  chests.  A  great 
heart  made  of  red  velvet  and  covered  thickly  with  jewelry,  in- 
cluding rings,  bracelets,  watches,  chains,  stickpins  and  earrings, 
was  carried  in.  Standing  on  a  chair,  one  of  the  committeemen 
unpinned  the  money  from  the  streamers  and  fixed  the  latter  be- 
hind the  statue,  then  tied  the  heart  about  the  image's  neck  so 
that  it  hung  in  front  of  the  statue. 

All  the  lights  in  the  church  flared  on  and  Father  Higgin- 
botham  appeared  with  his  altar  boys,  led  the  way  down  the 


nS —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

aisle,  Saint  Rosalia  close  behind,  on  the  sturdy  shoulders  of  her 
bearers.  Outside,  Clancy's  Band  burst  into  a  spirited  version  of 
'The  Courier.'  Anthony  Ochello,  Grand  Marshal,  stepped  to 
the  front. 

And  the  rain  had  stopped.  The  skies  were  clearing,  with  even 
a  patch  of  blue  showing  here  and  there.  However,  the  streets 
and  roads  were  still  sloppy,  and  soon  everyone  was  muddied  to 
the  knees.  The  crowd  rapidly  lengthened  and  thickened,  until 
it  stretched  six  country  blocks.  Biaccio  Montalbano,  well- 
known  delicatessen  man  of  New  Orleans  and,  by  his  own  admis- 
sion, the  holiest  man  in  the  city  (see  'Saint  Joseph's  Day,'  page 
102.),  was  right  up  in  front,  walking  close  to  the  statue.  He 
wore  what  was  easily  the  most  remarkable  regalia  in  the  pro- 
cession. He  had  three  large  holy  pictures,  depicting  Saint 
Rosalia,  strung  one  beneath  the  other  on  a  red  cord  which  was 
tied  around  his  neck.  The  pictures  hung  from  his  chest  almost 
to  his  knees,  making  his  walking  somewhat  difficult.  In  each 
outspread  arm  he  carried  a  large  picture  of  the  saint.  From  the 
pockets  of  his  seersucker  coat  protruded  crucifixes,  one  on  each 
side,  one  having  a  chain  of  bright  red  beads  so  long  it  nearly 
dragged  in  the  mud.  Frequently  Mr.  Montalbano  would  induce 
one  of  the  marchers  to  kiss  one  of  the  pictures  of  the  saint,  and 
then  he  was  all  grin  and  obviously  in  ecstasy. 

There  was  excitement  at  the  first  stop  across  the  street  from 
the  church,  after  the  pilgrims  had  turned.  While  Mr.  Ochello 
was  busy  collecting  money  from  those  who  came  forward  to  pay 
off  favors  granted,  a  Mr.  Viterella  went  into  action,  taking  first 
place  as  star  of  the  event.  Arms  up  and  gesturing  wildly,  he 
began  to  scream  volubly  in  Italian.  'Viva  Santa  Rosalia!'  he 
yelled.  'Viva  Santa  Rosalia!'  There  were  answering  cries  from 
the  crowd:  'Viva  Santa  Rosalia!' 

'Santa  Rosalia  Day  is  Santa  Rosalia  Day!'  cried  Mr.  Viterella. 
Tma  preach  the  whole  way.' 

The  crowd  became  indignant,  cried,  'Is  a  disgrace!' 

'Viva  Santa  Rosalia!'  yelled  Mr.  Viterella.  Tma  preach  the 
whole  way!' 

'He's  drunk!'  they  shouted.    'Is  a  disgrace.    Shut  up!' 

'Cuta  off  my  head!'  invited  Mr.  Viterella.    'Come  on,  cuta  off 


I 


A 


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1  IS 


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t 


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1 


Mrs.  Caparo  has  a  fine  altar  to  St.  Joseph 


'Saints"  eating  by  the  St.  Joseph's  shrine  of  Mrs.  Spann  and  Mrs.  Schnaupper  on 

St.  Mary's  Street 


An  elaborate  cake  baked  in  honor  of  St.  Joseph 


V.Afi, 


^m-p--** 

I  i     ^*r*i 


"  ~->":vr  /*o  ,-;^  -r 
^V-^^  -^^ ?•;/•'; 

<r  ^ •?  v  ^V-;    yv ,  1  /* , « 

.\       \^V-        7i-^'     /.^_;.*J 


rf  n^:  .<ff 

i*!!?^ 


Montalbano's  altar  to  St.  Joseph 
Courtesy  of  F.  A.  McDaniels,  New  Orleans 


l& 


St.  Rosalia  is  carried  in  honor  from  church  to  church 


Mrs.  Zito  makes  'a  beautiful  speech'  in  honor  of  St.  Rosalia 


Saint  Rosalia  s  Day  —  ng 

my  head!  I  will  not  shut  up.  Is  only  one  Santa  Rosalia  Day. 
Let  them  what  want  go  to  Harvey,  them  what  want  come  here. 
Am  I  right  or  am  I  wrong?' 

It  was  evident  Mr.  Viterella  objected  to  the  custom  of  holding 
the  two  processions  on  different  Sundays.  '  Hold  up  your  hands !' 
he  cried.  '  Am  I  right  or  am  I  wrong?' 

A  few  hands  went  up,  but  most  of  them  obviously  were  not  on 
his  side.  They  booed.  They  jeered.  They  laughed  at  him.  A 
large  woman  carrying  a  candle  in  a  paper  bag,  its  flame  flickering 
just  over  the  edges,  wept  audibly. 

'Cuta  off  my  head!'  screamed  Mr.  Viterella  again. 

But  now  the  procession  was  starting  again,  and  he  was  com- 
paratively quiet  for  the  rest  of  the  way.  The  next  stop  was  at 
Grand  Marshal  Ochello's  house,  where  icewater  in  big  galva- 
nized tubs  was  served  in  shiny  cups.  The  Ochellos  had  promised 
this  to  Saint  Rosalia.  At  last  Hanson  City  was  reached,  and  the 
next  pause  was  at  Mrs.  Zito's  grocery  store. 

A  wooden  table  was  brought  out  and  upon  this  was  set  the 
statue.  Another  table  appeared  and  upon  this  was  set  Mrs.  Zito 
-  with  some  difficulty.  She  was  excited,  and  she  clutched  a  post 
while  she  delivered  her  '  beautiful  spich,'  contenting  herself  with 
only  one  hand  for  gestures.  She  spoke  very  loudly,  accompanied 
by  rigid  salutes,  and  by  wide  and  graceful  sweeps  of  her  arm. 
Sometimes  she  pounded  her  fist  into  the  air.  At  other  moments 
she  clutched  her  bosom.  She  became  more  and  more  emotional, 
her  voice  cracking,  and  tears  streaming  from  her  eyes  and  down 
her  plump  cheeks.  She  cried  '  to  beat  the  band,'  though  no  one 
else  seemed  to  do  so.  Once  a  passing  freight  train  drowned  her 
'spich'  entirely,  but  she  paused  not  an  instant.  She  was  really 
dressed  like  a  'jellybean,'  too,  wearing  tight  patent-leather 
shoes,  silk  stockings,  a  starched  dress  of  light  blue  cotton  and 
two  deep  water  waves  in  her  coiffure. 

There  were  other  stops  —  at  Cavallino's  bar  for  pink  lemon- 
ade, at  Franzone's  Grocery  for  root  beer.  At  last  they  were  back 
at  Williamson  Boulevard,  and  nearing  the  church,  where  a  final 
stop  was  made  before  J.  Christina's  Grocery  and  Bar. 

Suddenly,  a  stout,  white-haired  man  appeared,  dragging  a 
kitchen  chair.  He  spread  a  sheet  of  newspaper  on  the  chair,  then 


120  


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 


he  stood  upon  it.  Word  passed  through  the  crowd  that  he  was 
Mr.  D'Amico,  that  he  was  from  New  Orleans  and  that  he  was 
about  to  make  a  speech.  He  did.  It  was  very  long,  very  loud,  and 
in  Italian.  The  crowd  bore  it  patiently  for  a  quarter-hour,  then 
became  restless,  though  some  used  the  time  to  come  forward,  lay 
hands  upon  the  statue  and  mumble  prayers.  Mr.  D'Amico 
talked  on.  His  face  dripped  perspiration,  his  voice  hoarsened, 
but  nothing  diminished  his  implicit  faith  in  his  own  oratorical 
powers. 

At  last  President  Christina  made  some  remarks,  implying  that 
Mr.  D'Amico  might  shorten  his  address.  Then  he  told  him  to 
shut  up.  Finally  he  signaled  the  band,  who  immediately 
drowned  Mr.  D'Amico  in  music.  President  Christina  gave  an- 
other signal,  and  the  men  lifted  Saint  Rosalia  and  proceeded 
around  the  speaker;  soon  the  procession  was  on  its  way.  His  face 
purple  with  rage,  Mr.  D'Amico  dropped  to  the  ground,  dragged 
himself  and  his  chair  in  the  general  direction  of  J.  Christina's 
Grocery  and  Bar. 

Cannon  and  firecrackers  went  off  again  as  Saint  Rosalia  was 
carried  into  the  church,  as  many  of  the  crowd  who  could  fol- 
lowing. As  Father  Higginbotham  began  the  Benediction, 
Clancy's  Band  played  loudly  in  the  yard  outside. 

Afterward,  there  was  a  bazaar  in  the  school  basement  next 
door.  A  large  keno  game  was  the  favorite  amusement,  offering 
prizes  in  money  and  groceries.  There  were  games  for  children  — 
grab  bags,  'fish  ponds.'  Beer,  soft  drinks  and  sandwiches  were 
sold.  Later  there  would  be  a  big  dance  at  Clancy's  Gymnasium, 
and  at  midnight,  outside  the  gymnasium,  there  would  be  a  great 
fireworks  display,  when,  as  in  Harvey,  a  brilliant  Santa  Rosalia 
would  be  sent  up  in  flaming  firework  magic.  Then  the  Saint 
Rosalia  celebration  is  over  for  another  year. 


Chapter  7 


Nickel  Gig,  Nickel  Saddle 


SARAH  LAWSON,  COLLECTOR  OF  RAGS   AND  PAPER, 

washwoman,  owner  of  six  cats  and  seven  dogs,  withdrew  her 
fat,  very  black  arms  from  the  tub  and  shook  off  the  snowy  suds. 
Some  of  the  little  bubbles  floated  for  a  second,  then  puffed  out  in 
tiny  explosions.  Sarah  began  to  sing: 

Four,  'leven  and  forty-four, 

Four,  'leven  and  forty-four. 

Goin'  down  this  mornin' 

'Cause  I  got  to  go. 

But  if  I  hit  this  gig, 

Ain't  gonna  bust  these  suds  no  more! 

''Course  that  song  is  about  the  Washwoman's  Gig,'  Sarah 
said.  'I  know  you  done  heard  of  that  one.  Ain't  hardly  no 
company  taking  it  now.  When  them  numbers  hits,  they  hits. 
The  Bag  of  Silver  was  cleaned  out  with  that  gig  two  years  ago. 
Man,  listen: 

Four,  'leven  and  forty-four, 
Four,  'leven  and  forty-four, 
Soapy  water  and  dirty  clo'es. 


122  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

I'm  bustin'  these  suds 
Up  to  my  elbows ! 

'  Boy,  all  I'd  have  to  do  would  be  to  hit  that  ole  Washwoman's 
Gig,  and  I'd  be  sittin'  on  top  of  the  world.  Man!  Man!  Does 
I  know  more  of  that  Lottery  Song?  Sure,  I  does.  They  got  all 
kinds  of  words.  Some  is  like  this: 

Four,  'leven  and  forty-four, 

Four,  'leven  and  forty-four, 

My  man,  he's  lazy. 

He  ain't  no  good, 

But  if  I  hit  this  gig, 

He's  gonna  dress  up  like  he  should! 

Four,  'leven  and  forty-four, 
Four,  'leven  and  forty-four, 
'Fore  I  lose  my  haid, 
'Cause  my  man's  in  that 
Yaller  woman's  bed! 

Four,  'leven  and  forty-four, 

Four,  'leven  and  forty-four, 

He  walked  out  my  door. 

Last  night  he  said,  Honey, 

I'm  comin'  back 

When  you  git  your  big  black  money ! 

Four,  'leven  and  forty-four, 

Four,  'leven  and  forty-four, 

Let  me  hit  that  gig. 

I'm  needin'  my  man  so  bad 

I'm  feelin'  freakish; 

It's  makin'  me  mean,  lowdown  and  sad!' 

The  Louisiana  Weekly,  Negro  newspaper,  reported  on  January  9, 
1937,  regarding  the  famous  Washwoman's  Gig: 

Lightning  might  not  strike  twice  in  the  same  place,  but  the 
Washwoman's  Gig,  4-11-44,  has  been  going  the  rounds  again 
this  week.  Its  appearance  in  a  downtown  company  two  weeks 
ago  financially  embarrassed  their  stockholders.  This  week  the 


Nickel  Gig,  Nickel  Saddle 

gig  made  its  appearance  at  the  Pelican  and  many  gloomy  faces 
became  happier  looking  and  many  a  heart  commenced  to  beat 
faster.  The  gig,  it  is  said  by  followers  of  the  pastime,  makes 
its  appearance  about  once  a  year  and  brings  sudden  deficit  to 
bankrolls.  Lottery  vendors  say  there  is  so  much  money  played 
on  4-11-44  that  it  would  break  the  Bank  of  Monte  Carlo  to 
pay  off  when  the  gig  makes  its  appearance. . . . 

'Lottery  is  my  fate!'  Martha  White  rolled  her  big  eyes  around 
in  her  dusky  face,  heaved  her  huge  bosom  in  a  mighty  sigh. 
'  You  is  lookin'  straight  at  a  woman  what  has  been  tryin'  to  hit 
them  numbers  steady  for  a  long  time.  I  hit  'em  for  a  nickel  every 
once  in  a  while,  but  them  quarter  licks  sure  does  come  in  slow, 
I'm  tellin'  you.  Trouble  is  I  ain't  never  had  enough  money  to 
play  a  system  I  knows.' 

Her  rocking  chair  creaked  and  wheezed.  'I  likes  to  rock  my 
weary  soul,'  she  said,  '  and  Gawd  knows  it's  weary.  Sure  I  goes 
to  church  sometimes.  Whenever  the  spirit  moves  me.  But  the 
spirit  don't  move  me  so  much  no  more.  Lottery  gits  in  the  way 
of  my  spirit.' 

On  the  wall  above  Martha's  bed  three  numbers  were  scrawled 
in  heavy  black  pencil,  four,  eleven  and  forty-four  —  the  famous 
Washwoman's  Gig! 

'No,  I  don't  play  that  no  more,'  she  said.  'No  vendor'll  take 
it.  But  I  done  tried  everything  else.  Even  hoodoo.  But  no  hoo- 
doo's ever  gonna  work  with  Lottery.  It's  dreams  what  counts. 
Hoodoo's  all  right  when  you  wants  somethin'  or  you  wants  to 
git  rid  of  somebody,  but  you  git  rid  of  your  Lottery  vendor 
and  where  is  you  at?  No,  sir.  All  I  needs  to  do  is  follow  my 
dreams. 

'You  know  I  didn't  used  to  believe  in  dreams?  But  once  I 
dreamed  I  fell  off  a  barn,  and  that  means  you  gonna  get  married. 
I  sure  laughed  at  that  —  old  woman  like  me  what's  done 
changed  life  two  times  and  'spectin'  to  change  again  pretty 
soon.  But  you  know  next  day  a  crazy  old  preacher  comes  around 
askin'  for  my  hand!  I  says,  "Man,  is  you  a  damn  fool?"  and  he 
leaves.  Ever  since  then  I  believes  in  dreams  and  I  plays  in  Lot- 
tery. See,  when  you  dream  'bout  a  cabbage,  play  nine  and  thirty 
in  a  capital.  One  night  I  dreams  I'm  fallin'  down  a  chimney.  I 


124  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

just  ups  and  plays  me  that  Chimney  Gig,  five,  fifty-six  and  three. 
Sure,  I  won.  If  you  dreams  of  your  husband,  always  play  six, 
forty-one  and  fifty;  if  it  is  your  sister,  play  five,  fifteen  and  forty- 
five.  That  Blood  Gig  is  really  fine;  any  time  you  dreams  of  blood 
be  sure  to  put  your  money  on  five,  ten  and  forty.  And  if  you 
dreams  of  Chinamans,  you  can't  lose  on  the  Chinaman's  Gig, 
one,  two  and  three. 

'When  you  dreams  you  sees  an  angel,  there's  the  Angel  Gig, 
fourteen,  sixty-five  and  nineteen.  You  can't  miss.  When  you 
dreams  your  nose  is  leakin',  you  get  a  gig  on  fourteen,  one  and 
six.  They  done  got  a  war  on,  ain't  they?  Play  that  War  Gig, 
ten,  three  and  twenty-one.  If  I  had  me  five  dollars  a  week  to  play 
my  system,  I  believes  I  could  get  rich  playin'  my  dreams,  but 
them  Welfare  peoples  takes  care  of  me,  and  they  don't  know  I 
plays  Lottery.  That  ain't  in  my  budget.'  She  giggled. 

Til  tell  you  somethin'  bad.  Don't  never  dream  you  is  on  the 
gallows.  That's  the  worstest  dream  there  is:  But  if  you  does, 
you  play  forty  bottom.  You  can't  lose.  Watch  out  for  mole 
dreams.  Them  is  really  somethin' !  If  a  girl  dreams  she's  got  a 
mole  on  her  belly,  it's  a  plain  fact  she's  gonna  have  trouble  all 
her  life :  'Course  she  can  always  win  Lottery  on  a  nine,  eighteen 
and  sixty-nine  gig.  If  you  dreams  you  got  a  mole  on  your 
cheek,  your  numbers  is  sixteen,  fifty-two  and  fifty-six.  Names 
is  good  things  to  dream  about.  For  Joseph  play  eighteen, 
thirty-five  and  sixty-two;  for  Francis,  eleven,  sixteen  and  twenty- 
four;  Albert  means  you  ought  to  play  seventeen,  two  and  six. 
I  guess  they  got  gigs  for  every  name  in  the  world. 

'The  best  dream  of  all  is  to  dream  about  a  woman's  petticoat. 
That  means  you  is  really  gonna  win  Lottery.' 

Walk  up  Rampart  Street  in  New  Orleans  any  time,  morning, 
noon  or  night.  Stop  in  any  restaurant,  any  bar,  and  you'll  find  a 
little  corner  devoted  to  policy  writing.  These  remain  open  until 
drawing  time,  then  close,  to  reopen  immediately  afterward. 
Go  over  to  the  vendor  and  place  a  gig.  A  gig  is  three  numbers. 
Play  a  nickel,  a  dime,  a  dollar,  five  dollars.  To  win,  all  three  of 
your  three  numbers  must  come  out  in  the  next  drawing.  Want 
to  insure  your  money?  Put  a  saddle  on  it.  Play  a  nickel  gig  and 
a  nickel  saddle.  That  saddle  means  if  only  two  of  your  numbers 


Nickel  Gig,  Nickel  Saddle  -  125 

come  out  on  the  list,  you  win  something  —  forty  cents  for  a 
nickel. 

Stop  and  get  a  shoeshine.  In  one  corner  of  the  shop  will  be  a 
vendor  sitting  behind  an  unpainted  wooden  table.  The  boy  who 
pops  his  polishing  cloth  over  your  toes  talks  readily,  volubly. 

'Lottery  shops?  Yes,  sir.  There's  three  in  this  block.  The 
Bag  of  Gold,  the  Clover  Bloom  and  the  Horseshoe  Blue. 

'  Sure,  I'd  rather  play  Lottery  than  gamble  at  a  dice  table.  You 
can't  use  no  system  with  dice,  but  you  sure  can  with  Lottery. 
Like  on  Monday  you  play  a  nickel  gig  and  a  nickel  saddle.  Then 
you  don't  play  no  more  until  the  list  comes  out.  Then  you  play 
again.  Hell,  you  can't  lose  no  more  than  seventy  cents  in  a  week. 
But  you  gotta  stick  to  your  numbers.  They  bound  to  come  out 
sometimes.  It's  just  like  feedin'  up  a  little  ole  shoat.  You  gotta 
fatten  that  pig  up  first.  Then  you  kills  him. 

'And  you  gotta  play  your  hunches.  You  gotta  play  what 
comes  to  you.  Dreams  is  a  good  way.  Everybody  plays  their 
dreams.  Sure  I  got  me  a  dream  book.' 

There  are  numbers  for  every  dream,  for  every  hunch.  Every- 
one has  his  own  personal  superstition  about  how  to  win  at  Lot- 
tery. Ideas  like  these  prevail: 

'I  burns  things,  me.  I  burns  candles,  lamps  and  all  kinds  of 
powders.  It  sure  do  work  too.' 

'I  knows  a  woman  who  mixes  up  black  pepper  and  cinnamon 
and  sprinkles  it  all  around  her  house.  She  won  lots  of  money 
that  way.  She  lives  off  Lottery.' 

4 1  always  plays  my  numbers  by  what  I  thinks  and  dreams.  I 
don't  play  on  nothin'  I  can  see,  that's  livin',  or  nothin'  I  can 
touch  with  my  hand.  My  numbers  is  all  from  the  spirit.' 

'  The  other  night  I  dreams  a  tall  and  handsome  brown  man  was 
makin'  love  to  me.  I  played  sixteen  for  his  color,  seven  for  his 
height  and  forty-two  for  the  age  he  looked  about  to  be.  All 
three  of  them  numbers  come  out.' 

'I  plays  Lottery  like  you  goes  to  your  office.  It's  my  whole 
life,  man.  I  wouldn't  give  it  up  for  nothin'.  If  I  had  to  choose 
between  work  and  Lottery,  I  sure  would  take  Lottery,  'cause  I 
feels  I  can  make  money  and  still  have  all  my  time  to  myself.' 

'Lottery  ain't  no  sin.   I  feels  I  is  justified  in  playin'  it,  'cause 


126  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

then  I  gits  what  I  wants  without  havin'  to  steal.  So,  you  see,  it 
ain't  no  sin.' 

'I  can  only  git  my  numbers  when  I  is  in  my  port.' 

And  by  no  means  do  the  Lottery  vendors  confine  themselves  to 
Rampart  Street,  though  they  may  be  thickest  there.  They  are 
literally  everywhere,  uptown,  downtown,  in  every  neighbor- 
hood. 

New  Orleans  has  always  been  a  gambling  town.  Rooms  for 
gaming  were  opened  in  the  very  first  taverns  and  grog  houses. 
With  the  Louisiana  Purchase  in  1803  and  the  subsequent  opening 
of  the  Mississippi  River  to  commerce,  came  swarms  of  profes- 
sional gamblers  and  adventurers  of  all  kinds.  During  the  Creole 
era,  six  houses  of  chance  were  licensed  by  the  Legislature  at 
five  thousand  dollars  a  year  each,  four-fifths  of  the  money  to  go 
to  the  Charity  Hospital,  one-fifth  to  the  College  of  Orleans. 
These  houses  were  small  and  only  one  roulette  wheel  or  faro 
game  was  allowed  to  each. 

The  first  gaming  'palace'  was  opened  by  John  Davis,  known 
as  the  father  of  gambling  throughout  the  United  States  and  one 
of  the  most  colorful  figures  in  New  Orleans 's  early  history. 
Owner  of  the  Orleans  Ballroom,  he  operated  a  magnificent  estab- 
lishment next  door,  containing  the  most  elegant  furnishings,  the 
most  costly  and  luxurious  appointments,  offering  the  finest 
service  of  foods  and  liquors  and  every  game  of  chance  imaginable. 

Others  followed  rapidly,  each  vying  with  the  others  in  ele- 
gance, in  inducements  for  patronage.  Many  served  tempting 
buffet  suppers;  one  even  offered  an  elaborate  dinner  of  many 
courses  each  Sunday  evening,  served  on  plates  of  solid  silver,  all 
the  food  without  charge.  Evening  clothes  were  compulsory  in 
places  so  pretentious. 

It  is  doubtful  that  any  American  city  ever  offered  more  reckless 
gambling  than  that  which  took  place  in  New  Orleans  during 
this  period;  twenty-five  thousand  dollars  would  change  hands  at 
a  single  roll  of  the  dice.  Many  wealthy  men  squandered  hun- 
dreds of  thousands  of  dollars  a  year  in  these  establishments. 
Policy,  Faro,  Roulette,  Craps,  Poker  and  other  card  games  were 
all  popular.  Davis's  house  boasted  special  rooms  for  Brag, 
Ecarte  and  Boston.  Professional  gamblers  from  the  steamboats 


Nickel  Gig,  Nickel  Saddle  —  727 

plowing  the  dark  waters  of  the  Mississippi  met  here  nightly,  to 
win  and  lose,  to  fleece  the  nai've,  to  quarrel  and  duel,  occasion- 
ally to  kill. 

Craps,  having  appeared  early  in  the  city's  history,  is  believed 
to  have  been  brought  to  the  city  by  Louis  Philippe  and  his  broth- 
ers, the  Duke  de  Montpensier  and  the  Count  de  Beaujolais,  when 
they  were  guests  of  Bernard  de  Marigny,  head  of  a  wealthy  and 
distinguished  Louisiana  family,  in  1798.  De  Marigny,  whose 
personal  passion  was  gambling  of  any  sort,  introduced  the  game 
to  the  fashionables  of  the  city.  And  in  later  years,  when  he 
divided  his  princely  estate,  in  what  was  then  the  outskirts  of  the 
city,  into  blocks  and  squares,  he  named  one  street  the  Rue  de 
Craps,  perhaps  with  irony,  for  it  is  reported  that  he  was  ex- 
tremely unlucky  at  the  game.  But  after  a  decade,  when  a  Meth- 
odist Church  was  built  on  the  Rue  de  Craps  and  became  known  as 
the  Craps  Methodist  Church,  it  was  thought  best  that  the  street 
become  Burgundy  Street,  which  it  remains  until  today. 

Louis  Philippe  maintained  his  interest  in  de  Marigny  and  the 
game  of  Craps  for  years.  One  year  when  a  certain  Doctor  Cenas 
and  his  gay,  attractive  wife  were  visiting  in  Paris,  they  were 
presented  at  Court.  As  the  Cenases  entered  the  ballroom  and  the 
announcer  called  out,  'Doctor  et  Madame  Auguste  Cenas  de  la 
Nouwlle  Orleans,'  the  royal  countenance  beamed  and  His  Majesty 
demanded  to  know  at  once  if,  since  they  were  from  Nouvelle  Or- 
leans, they  might  be  acquainted  with  the  well-known  de  Ma- 
rigny. And  upon  reassurance  that  they  were,  Louis  Philippe  gave 
them  an  audience  which  lasted  for  hours  and  reportedly  con- 
sisted almost  entirely  of  a  discussion  of  the  New  Orleans  gambler 
and  the  game  known  as  Craps. 

Today  in  the  colored  sections  of  the  city  there  are  always  cir- 
cles of  men  'rollin'  the  bones,'  playing  Indian  dice,  which  is  any 
game  of  Craps  unsupervised  by  a  syndicate  and  without  a  player 
for  the  'house.'  Any  Negro  game  of  Craps  will  echo  with  such 
comments  as  these: 

'I'm  shootin'  a  dime,  Lightie.    I  got  a  man!' 

Lightie  replies  with  a  song: 

Look  down,  rider,  spot  me  in  the  dark, 

When  I  calls  these  dice,  break  these  niggers'  hearts. 


iz8 —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Roll  out,  seven,  stand  back,  craps, 

If  I  make  this  pass,  I'll  be  standin'  pat. 

Fingers  pop.  'When  I  get  home  let  the  story  be  told.  Come 
on,  baby.  Do  it  like  Sally  did  it  in  Memphis.  When  the  train 
came  she  wasn't  there.  Let  me  roll  a  long  time,  'cause  I'm  fresh 
out  of  air.' 

'Hit  an  eight.  Flat  on  your  back  and  do  a  flip-flap.  Eight, 
where  is  you?' 

'Jump  a  rump  and  hop  till  I  tell  you  to  stop.' 

Lightie's  nasal  tenor  is  loose  again: 

Don't  have  to  ride  no  boxcar, 
'Cause  I  ain't  goin'  that  far, 
Don't  have  to  shed  no  tears, 
'Cause  I  ain't  got  no  years, 
Don't  have  to  fuss  and  fight, 
'Cause  I  got  all  night, 
To  win  this  mo-neeeeeeey ! 

'You  better  get  on  that  train,  boy!' 
'Boxcars  don't  pull  that  freight.' 
'Craps  two.    They're  comin'  up  again.' 
'Can't  you  see  them  dice  is  cuttin'?' 
Lightie: 

Last  night  I  went  to  a  game  of  Craps, 
Thinkin'  I'd  win  some  money  perhaps, 
I  thought  them  coons  would  have  the  fits, 
'So  I  proudly  said,  Til  shoot  six  bits! ' 

'Come  seven,'  I  said.   The  dice  rolled  three. 

I  said,  'Gentlemen,  youse  has  done  cleaned  me.' 

'Clean  already!'  cried  Liver-Lip  Jim, 

'Hell,  you  wasn't  so  smart  when  you  first  come  in.' 

The  dice  crack  against  the  pavement  again. 
'My  nutmeg  done  lost  its  charm,  damn  it.' 
'Six  and  eight,  while  you  wait.' 
'Callin'  five,  shine  your  line.' 
'Damn  them  snake  eyes!' 


Nickel  Gig,  Nickel  Saddle  -  129 

'Shoot  all.    I  got  to  get  it  while  it's  hot.' 

'Come  on,  Red,  swing  out  this  lick.' 

'Dime  on  any  crap.' 

'Little  Joe,  everywhere  I  go.' 

'Roll  out,  seven!' 

Another  song: 

My  baby  needs  a  new  pair  of  shoes;  come  along,  you  seven, 
She  can't  get  'em  if  I  lose;  come  along,  you  seven. 
Roll  them  bones,  roll  'em  on  a  square,  roll  'em  on  a  sidewalk, 
Street  and  everywhere;  we'll  roll  'em  in  the  mornin',  Joe. 

Roll  them  in  the  night, 

We'll  roll  them  bones  the  whole  day  long, 

When  the  cops  are  out  of  sight, 

We  will  roll  them  bones. 

'Shake,  baby,  shake!  You  don't  shake  you  don't  get  no  jelly- 
cake.' 

'Roll,  baby,  roll.    You  don't  get  my  gold.' 

'Come,  seven!' 

And  the  dice  roll.  Uptown,  downtown,  in  the  great  gambling- 
houses  flourishing  in  the  parishes  just  above  and  below  the  city, 
the  ivory  cubes  leave  tense  fists  to  go  flying  and  tumbling,  win- 
ning and  losing  nickels,  dimes,  dollars,  thousands,  for  the  ad- 
dicts of  this  game  of  Craps. 

Every  number  on  the  dice  has  at  least  one  name.  The  best 
known  are:  x  —  Snake  Eyes,  3 — Craps,  4  —  Little  Joe, 
5  —  Fever,  6  —  Big  Six,  7  —  Natural,  8  —  Ada  from  Decatur, 
9  —  Nina,  10  • —  Big  Dick,  n  —  Natural,  12.  —  Boxcars. 

All  over  New  Orleans  are  opportunities  for  every  sort  of  gam- 
bling. Behind  barrooms  and  beer  parlors,  restaurants  and  pool- 
rooms, races  are  'booked.'  This  is  almost  as  commonplace  as 
Lottery.  Numerous  card  games  are  always  in  progress  in  upper 
rooms.  Yet  all  this  is  at  least  semi-surreptitious.  But  in  the 
miniature  Monte  Carlos  in  Jefferson  and  St.  Bernard  Parishes 
there  is  little  or  no  attempt  at  concealment.  In  these  places, 
some  of  them  almost  modern  counterparts  of  the  luxurious  estab- 
lishments of  John  Da  vis's  era  in  size  and  magnificence,  the  lights 
burn  brightly  every  night,  from  six  in  the  evening  until  late. 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Recently  one  of  them  began  opening  for  afternoon  *  matinees'  for 
housewives. 

Laborers  and  bankers,  scrubwomen  and  society  women,  clerks, 
doctors,  professional  gamblers  —  all  strata  of  society  are  repre- 
sented, people  with  nickels  and  people  with  dollars  and  people 
with  fortunes  to  risk.  Until  long  past  midnight  it  is  almost  im- 
possible to  squeeze  in  at  one  of  the  tables  where  the  roulette 
wheels  are  spinning  or  the  dice  rolling.  All  sorts  of  games  are 
popular  at  those  clubs,  from  nickel  slot  machines  and  pinball 
machines  to  dice  games  where  thousands  of  dollars  change  hands 
at  a  throw  of  the  little  ivory  cubes.  From  time  to  time  a  're- 
form' State  Government  closes  these  places;  but  they  always 
reopen. 

At  least  in  the  sheer  number  of  persons  who  play  it,  Keno  is 
the  most  popular  game  of  all.  A  form  of  Lotto,  seven  hundred 
persons  can  play  at  a  time.  Cards  cost  five  cents  each  and  it  is 
usual  to  play  several  cards  at  one  time.  Players  thrill  as  the  caller 
shouts  the  numbers  and  they  flash  in  red  on  immense  tabulating 
boards.  Several  times  each  night  there  are  '  gold  rolls,'  at  which 
time  the  winner  usually  receives  about  seventy  dollars,  occa- 
sionally more.  An  entire  evening  may  be  spent  playing  Keno  at 
a  very  small  cost. 

Bingo  parties  are  popular  in  New  Orleans  and  its  vicinity. 
Everyone  gives  them,  from  churches  and  political  organizations 
to  people  raising  their  rent.  And  Bingo  is  another  form  of  Keno. 

But  Lottery  boasts  even  more  addicts  than  does  Keno.  For 
years  Lottery  has  been  an  integral  part  of  New  Orleans  and  Lou- 
isiana life. 

The  Louisiana  Lottery  Company  was  authorized  to  operate  by 
Legislature  in  1868  when  it  promised  to  pay  $40,000  a  year  to- 
ward the  upkeep  of  the  Charity  Hospital  in  New  Orleans.  The 
first  drawing  offered  a  Grand  Prize  of  $3700  on  a  twenty-five-cent 
ticket.  This  was  increased  the  following  year  to  a  fifty-cent 
ticket  and  a  $7500  Grand  Prize.  At  last  it  rose  to  such  heights 
that  a  capital  Grand  Prize  of  $600,000  was  being  offered  twice  a 
year  with  a  forty-dollar  ticket.  No  one  person  ever  won  this 
huge  prize  in  its  entirety,  but  a  New  Orleans  barber  once  held  a 
ticket  for  twenty  dollars  and  was  paid  his  $300,000  without 
question. 


Nickel  Gig,  Nickel  Saddle 

The  original  charter  of  the  Louisiana  Lottery  Company  was 
for  twenty-five  years.  This  was  canceled  in  1879,  but  a  new  one> 
including  even  greater  privileges,  was  granted  the  following  year. 

The  accompanying  advertisement  from  The  Mascot  of  Decem- 
ber 2.,  1882.,  is  typical: 

LA.  S.  L. 
TAKE    NOTICE 

This  is  the  only  lottery  in  any  State  ever  voted  on  and 
Endorsed  by  the  People 

SPLENDID  CHANCE  FOR  A  FORTUNE! 

THE  LOUISIANA  STATE 
LOTTERY  COMPANY 

Will  Give,  at  New  Orleans,  La.,  on 
Tuesday,  December  19,  1882., 

A  Promenade  Concert, 
During  which  will  take  place,  the 

EXTRAORDINARY    DRAWING 
Class  M. 

Under  the  immediate  supervision  and  management  of 

Gen.  G.  T.  Beauregard  of  Louisiana  and 

Gen.  Jubal  A.  Early,  of  Virginia 

NO  SCALING!  NO  POSTPONEMENT! 

OVER  A  HALF  A  MILLION  DOLLARS  DISTRIBUTED. 

ALL  PRIZES  PAID  IN  FULL! 

One  Capital  Prize $100,000 

One  Capital  Prize 50,000 

One  Capital  Prize 2.0,000 

11,2.79  Prizes,  all  Amounting  to 

$52.2,500 

The  Drawing  will  Positively  commence  at  Eleven 

o'clock  a.m.,  on  the  morning  of 

TUESDAY,  DECEMBER  19,  1882. 

LOOK  AT  THE  SCHEME! 

EXTRAORDINARY  SCHEME! 

100,000  TICKETS  AT  $10  EACH. 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

In  1898  the  company  was  able  to  offer  the  State  $1,2.50,000  for 
a  renewal.  But  by  now  Lottery  was  highly  unpopular  as  having 
a  pernicious  effect  on  the  poor  and  "as  possessing  tremendous 
political  power,  which  was  being  misused.  Lottery  became 
almost  the  sole  issue  of  the  gubernatorial  campaign  that  year. 

In  1895  tne  federal  statute  prohibiting  interstate  transport  of 
the  tickets  was  passed.  The  company  promptly  moved  to  Hon- 
duras. There  it  remained  until  1907,  when  it  was  forced  out  of 
business  by  federal  prosecution  of  its  American  agents  at  home. 

But  this  wasn't  the  end  of  Lottery  in  New  Orleans.  It  seems  to 
have  been  only  the  beginning. 

There  are  scores  of  Lottery  shops  today,  hundreds  of  vendors, 
some  who  walk  the  streets,  have  a  regular  route,  regular  clients. 

Lottery  vendors,  apparently,  do  not  look  upon  their  profession 
as  lacking  in  respectability. 

'Anything  you  do  ought  to  be  made  respectable,'  argued  one 
of  them.  '  You  know  some  people  can  make  any  job  look  re- 
spectable; and  others  would  make  the  same  job  look  just  oppo- 
site. It's  all  the  way  you  see  life.  Me?  I  make  about  five  dollars 
a  day.  Some  of  the  fellows  make  as  much  as  eight.' 

In  a  certain  section  of  New  Orleans  the  average  family  income 
is  less  than  fifty  dollars  a  month.  Yet  everybody  plays  Lottery. 
Somehow  they  manage  to  gamble  at  least  five  cents  a  day.  They 
live  with  Lottery.  They  live  for  Lottery. 

'  You  got  to  think  about  Lottery  all  the  time,'  they'll  tell  you. 
'  You  got  to  keep  the  numbers  in  your  mind  and  nothing  else. 
That's  the  secret  of  it.  You  must  think  of  nothing  but  numbers 
and  Lottery.' 

And  that's  what  they  do.  They  think  of  nothing  but  numbers 
and  Lottery.  They  dream  of  numbers  and  Lottery  at  night. 
Everything  that  happens  has  some  bearing  on  what  gigs  they 
pick  for  their  nickels.  Every  dream  has  its  translation  into  num- 
bers to  be  bet  on  Lottery.  And  by  no  means  is  this  passion  con- 
fined to  Negroes.  Hundreds  of  white  people  make  it  an  insepa- 
rable part  of  their  daily  lives.  They  seem  to  find  in  the  game  an 
escape,  an  almost  glamorous  rainbow  trail  with  hope  and  a  pot 
of  gold  always  ahead.  And  sometimes  they  win.  Many  families 
seem  to  supplement  their  incomes  constantly  by  scrupulous  atten- 
tion to  every  detail  of  the  art  of  playing  Lottery. 


Nickel  Gig,  Nickel  Saddle 

The  Pelican  Lottery  Company  is  probably  the  best  known  and 
the  most  prosperous  in  the  Negro  section.  A  great  believer  in 
advertising,  this  company  uses  handbills,  and  even  sound  trucks. 
In  1937,  when  the  Washwoman's  Gig  almost  broke  the  Pelican, 
the  manager  was  astute  enough  to  capitalize  on  his  losses  by 
having  sound  trucks  blast  the  news  from  one  end  of  New  Orleans 
to  the  other  about  how  the  Pelican  paid  off.  He  gives  away  free 
chickens,  turkeys  and  groceries  to  stimulate  attendance  at  draw- 
ings. 

There  are  about  sixty  persons  employed  by  the  Pelican.  All 
the  inside  workers  are  Negroes,  and  the  vendors  are  white  or 
black  according  to  what  neighborhood  they  work.  Drawings 
are  held  three  times  a  week,  on  Monday,  Wednesday  and  Friday, 
and  many  white  people  mingle  with  the  colored  at  these  affairs. 

Another  well-known  policy  establishment  is  on  the  edge  of 
what  was  once  New  Orleans 's  notorious  Story ville,  now  re- 
placed by  a  Federal  Housing  Project.  Here  business  starts  early 
in  the  morning.  One  of  the  first  clients  is  a  well-dressed  young 
Negro,  who  keeps  walking  in  and  out  of  the  shop,  seeming  un- 
able to  make  up  his  mind  what  to  play. 

'That's  his  system,'  the  vendor  explained.  This  particular 
vendor  is  dignified  and  soft-spoken,  the  scion  of  a  once  distin- 
guished Creole  family.  '  He  likes  to  watch  what  the  others  are 
playing.  He's  a  college  student.  Frequently  he  wins,  though 
not  as  often  as  those  fool  niggers  who  play  their  dreams  and  all 
sorts  of  crazy  hunches.  On  Lincoln's  Birthday  one  of  them 
played  a  hunch  and  won  thirty-six  dollars.  The  night  before  he 
had  dreamed  he  was  a  slave  and  was  freed  at  the  time  all  the 
others  were.  That  was  in  1863,  so  he  placed  his  money  on  two, 
twelve,  eighteen  and  sixty-three.  Do  you  know,  every  one  of 
those  numbers  came  in!' 

As  the  morning  wore  on,  the  shop  crowded  with  both  black 
and  white  customers.  A  favorite  number  seemed  to  be  fifty-nine. 
This  was  one  popular  with  the  Creoles  in  the  old  days'  when  open 
Lottery  flourished.  A  nurse  from  Charity  Hospital  came  in  to 
collect  yesterday's  winnings.  The  night  before  she  had  been 
playing  Keno  at  one  of  the  big  gambling-houses  in  Jefferson 
Parish,  and  had  missed  three  times  on  twenty-one.  A  man  sit- 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

ting  next  to  her  had  advised  her  to  keep  playing  it,  that  she 
couldn't  miss.  So  she  had  played  it  on  Lottery  and  it  had  headed 
the  list.  The  vendor  said  this  young  lady  played  all  her  hunches 
and  seldom  lost. 

A  white  man  grumbled:  'My  wife  sends  me  here  every  day  to 
play  numbers,  and  do  I  get  bawled  out  if  they  don't  hit !  She  gets 
the  damnedest  ideas.  Day  before  yesterday  I  brought  home  some 
lemons  and  there  turned  out  to  be  only  eleven  in  the  bag  instead 
of  the  dozen  I  had  paid  for. 

'Right  away  she  starts  hollering,  "Go  back  and  get  that 
lemon,  you  dumb  ox!"  Then  she  says,  "Wait  a  minute!"  And 
I  knew  what  was  coming.  "Go  play  eleven,  first  station,"  she 
says. 

'Well,  of  course  twelve  came  in  yesterday.  Did  I  catch  hell! 
She  said  if  I  had  brought  home  that  other  lemon  she  would  have 
played  twelve.  She  chinned  about  it  all  night  long.  And  she 
wouldn't  have  done  that  at  all.  She  would  have  played  some 
other  fool  hunch. 

'Know  what  I'm  playing  today?  Six,  twelve  and  twenty- 
four,  and  you  wouldn't  guess  why  in  a  million  years.  It  hap- 
pens the  washerwoman  is  going  to  have  a  baby,  and  last  night 
my  wife  dreamed  it  would  be  twins  and  that  each  twin  would 
have  six  toes  on  each  foot.  Can  you  beat  that  one?  She  decided 
that  the  babies  would  probably  have  two  feet  apiece,  so  she  mul- 
tiplied the  toes  by  two  and  by  four.  God  help  me  if  they  don't 
all  come  out!  I'll  bet  that  woman  ain't  going  to  have  but  one 
baby  with  five  toes  on  each  foot.  Maybe  she  ain't  going  to  have 
a  baby  at  all.  How  the  hell  do  I  know?' 

Over  one  thousand  persons  are  employed  in  this  business,  as 
clerks,  callers,  bookkeepers  and  vendors,  all  but  the  latter  receiv- 
ing a  straight  salary  of  $^.50  a  day,  the  vendor  being  paid  a  com- 
mission on  collections. 

Many  persons  attend  the  drawings,  believing  it  better  to  be 
there,  and  frequently  the  companies  encourage  this  as  good  ad- 
vertising, often  giving  additional  prizes  of  groceries,  radios  and 
articles  of  furniture  to  the  holders  of  the  winning  tickets  for 
being  present  at  the  drawings. 

The  caller,  standing  on  a  platform,  places  seventy-two  num- 


Nickel  Gig,  Nickel  Saddle 

bers  in  the  wheel,  then  selects  someone  from  the  audience  and 
blindfolds  him.  When  the  wheel  is  spun,  this  selected  drawer 
shoves  in  his  hand  and  picks  one  of  the  little  wooden  balls.  The 
number  on  the  ball  is  then  loudly  announced  by  the  caller.  This 
is  done  twelve  consecutive  times.  These  numbers  are  then 
stamped  on  a  vendor's  list,  and  copies  of  this  list  are  distributed 
by  the  vendors  to  everyone  who  played  in  this  particular  draw- 
ing. To  have  won,  your  numbers  must,  of  course,  appear  on 
this  list. 

There  are  innumerable  ways  of  playing  Lottery.  If  your  nickel 
gig  wins  —  all  three  numbers  appearing  on  the  vendor's  list  - 
you  receive  nine  dollars.  If  it  was  saddled,  you  win  a  dollar, 
twenty-five  cents  more.  If  saddled  and  only  two  numbers  ap- 
peared, you'll  get  forty  cents.  Play  your  nickel  on  a  number  for 
capital  position  and  if  it  shows  in  the  first  three  stations,  five 
dollars  is  yours.  Or  you  may  play  one  number  to  appear  any- 
where on  the  list  and  the  nickel  might  earn  two  dollars  and 
fifty  cents. 

Negro  tenements  are  favorite  places  for  Lottery  vendors  to  set 
up  business.  Here  in  dingy  rooms,  under  green-shaded  drop 
lights,  they  write  numbers  and  accept  gigs.  Inside  vendors  are 
never  permitted  to  work  outside.  Most  of  the  tenement  vendors 
are  white  and  they  are  careful  to  treat  their  clients  with  every 
courtesy.  Walls  are  decorated  with  the  numbers  of  popular  gigs, 
also  with  numbers  that  coincide  with  dreams,  many  of  them 
invented  by  the  vendors  themselves.  They  can  always  supply  a 
gig  on  any  dream,  idea  or  hunch  a  customer  may  have.  A  pro- 
spective customer  never  gets  away.  That  different  vendors  will 
undoubtedly  supply  entirely  different  numbers  for  the  same 
dream,  or  even  that  the  same  vendor  might  do  this  on  different 
days,  is  nobody's  business  but  the  vendor's.  The  important 
thing  is  that  the  customer  is  always  satisfied.  'Everybody  has  a 
right  to  a  mind  of  his  own,'  says  Beulah  Howard,  a  regular  cus- 
tomer. '  If  you  see  diff'runt  numbers  in  your  brain  than  some- 
body else  does,  that  ain't  nothin'.  You  gotta  play  what's  in 
your  head.' 

When  a  player  gets  the  blues  about  his  Lottery,  especially 
when  his  numbers  '  ain't  runnin'  right,'  he  always  blames  his  bad 


1)6 —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

luck    on    something.     Often    it's    his    love    life.     He'll    sing: 

It's  a  funny  thing  them  numbers  ain't  treatin'  me  right, 
It's  a  funny  thing  them  numbers  ain't  treatin'  me  right, 
Maybe  some  black  nigger's  with  my  old  lady  tonight. 

When  a  man's  under  your  bed  in  the  fall, 
.1  say  when  a  man's  under  your  bed  in  the  fall, 
You  just  don't  have  no  luck  a  tall. 

Ain't  no  foolin'  with  Lottery,  no  indeed, 

No  need  to  fool  with  Lottery,  no  indeed, 

'Cause  you'll  never  git  the  money  you  need, 

Not  if  a  man's  sneakin'  under  your  house  in  the  fall. 

Dreams,  hunches,  automobile  licenses,  all  are  played  in  these 
establishments  and  with  the  street  vendors.  Of  particular  im- 
portance is  the  'Lawd,'  many  people  calling  on  Him  to  'bring 
their  numbers  home,'  and  for  protection,  should  it  be  suspected 
that  someone  'has  done  rubbed  their  pants  pockets  with  some 
devil  stuff.'  Preachers  are  seldom  asked  for  help  with  Lottery, 
but  spiritualist  'mothers'  do  a  heavy  business  in  this  direction, 
often  receiving  a  cut  in  the  winnings.  '  Sometimes  it  takes  pow- 
ders and  stuff  to  bring  them  numbers  'round,'  is  the  common 
opinion.  But  the  preachers  have  no  objections  to  their  flock 
playing  Lottery.  They  usually  profit  from  it.  Many  gamblers  are 
superstitious  about  leaving  the  church  out  of  their  winnings. 
Anyway,  the  preachers  couldn't  stop  them. 

4  Why  does  Negroes  play  Lottery?'  muses  Willie  Jones,  who  is 
a  philosopher  as  well  as  a  gambler.  '  'Cause  they  dreams  so 
much.  You  see,  Lottery  is  dreamin*  and  dreamin'  is  Lottery. 
That's  the  truth.  Ain't  no  cause  and  ain't  no  effect  unless  you 
dreams  in  Lottery,  is  there?  I  always  say  find  the  cause  and 
you'll  find  the  effect,  and  the  cause  of  cullud  peoples  playin' 
Lottery  is  dreamin'.  WTe  is  just  natural  dreamers  'cause  we  eats 
too  much.  So  eatin'  is  the  cause,  and  the  effects  is  dreamin'  and 
Lottery.  Take  me.  All  I  got  to  do  to  dream  is  just  eat  four  or 
five  bananas  before  I  goes  to  bed.  That  sure  do  make  me  dream! 
Then  next  day  I  makes  me  a  gig  and  wins  nine  dollars.  That's 
plenty  of  money,  'specially  for  a  nickel. 


Nickel  Gig,  Nickel  Saddle 

'  Every  now  and  then  the  Lawd  pussonally  shows  me  numbers. 
The  Lawd  took  me  out  of  sin,  you  know,  and  put  me  in  the  land 
of  the  religious.  And  when  the  Lawd  shows  me  numbers  I  is 
bound  to  win.  How  does  I  know?  I  reckon  the  Lawd  'tends  to 
take  care  of  Willie  Jones. 

'I  eats  my  bananas,  goes  to  sleep,  then  I  sees  the  Lawd.  He 
stands  right  smack  before  me  like  a  natural  man.  He  points  one 
finger  at  me.  I  says,  "One."  He  points  two  fingers.  I  says, 
"Two."  Then  He  raises  His  whole  hand.  The  Lawd  done  told 
me  to  play  one,  two  and  five.  I  is  filled  with  joy  straight  from 
the  Lawd.  "Hallelujah!"  I  cries.  My  crazy  wife  wakes  up  and 
yells:  "Look  at  that  nigger!  Just  look  at  that  man!  That  damn 
fool!"  Then  I  reaches  over  and  busts  her  one  in  the  mout'.  That 
shuts  her  up  for  a  while. 

'  Let  me  tell  you  something  brother.  I  got  a  strong  'preciation 
of  the  Lawd.  You  is  lookin'  at  a  man  what's  been  shot  five  times 
by  a  woman.  I  told  the  Lawd  if  He'd  let  me  live,  I'd  never  do 
another  wrong.  That's  why  I  married  me  a  Christian  woman. 
Then  I  joined  the  Baptist  Church.  Went  straight  from  sinner- 
man  to  board  member  to  deacon  to  head  deacon.  That's  what  I  is 
now,  head  deacon. 

'No,  indeed!  Lottery  ain't  no  sin,  Lottery  is  just  dreams. 
Cullud  people  got  to  gamble  cheap  and  all  of  'em  plays  Lottery. 
Does  they  win?  Sometimes  they  does.  And,  man,  when  a  cullud 
man  wins  Lottery  it's  worser  than  a  fat  woman  gittin'  religion. 
They  just  jumps  up  and  down  and  hollers.' 

Willie  looked  very  wise  for  a  second.  '  'Course  you  knows  who 
them  big  shots  is  what  really  makes  money  out  of  that  game,'  he 
said.  'Man,  one  of  'em  has  a  big  mansion  down  in  Gentilly. 
It's  like  a  king's  palace  or  somethin'. 

'  Guess  you  heard  'bout  the  time  this  big  shot  went  to  the  bank 
with  so  many  sacks  of  money  the  cashier's  eyes  was  poppin'  out 
his  head.  ' '  What  you  got  there?' '  that  cashier  asked.  You  know 
what  that  Lottery  King  done  told  him?  He  said,  "Nigger 
dreams."  That  might  sound  funny,  but  it  was  the  truth.  That's 
all  it  was.  Just  nigger  dreams.' 


Chapter  8 


The  Creoles 


LIKE  THE  GREEKS,  THE  CREOLES  HAD  A  WORD 

for  everything.  For  themselves  they  even  did  better  than  that. 
Every  Creole  was  sorti  de  la  cuisse  de  Jupiter  —  a  piece  from  the 
thigh  of  Jupiter;  and  privately  each  one  considered  himself  a 
slice  of  deity  of  no  mean  proportions.  That  was  not  all.  They 
were  creme  de  la  crime;  and  if  a  Creole  family  was  not  exactly 
de  la  fine  fleur  des  pois  —  literally,  not  of  the  most  select  blooms 
of  the  sweet  pea  blossom  —  it  was  certainly  one  of  les  bonnes 
families.  And  woe  to  the  gens  du  commun  —  the  common  people 
—  ambitious  enough  or  foolish  enough  to  attempt  to  enter 
Olympus !  The  gates  were  closed.  It  has  been  said  that  the  Low- 
ells spoke  only  to  the  Cabots  and  the  Cabots  spoke  only  to  God, 
but  it  is  fairly  safe  to  say  that  in  the  very  early  Creole  era  both 
families  would  have  been  snubbed  by  the  Creoles  of  New 
Orleans. 

The  French  founders  of  Louisiana  arrived  in  the  last  year  of  the 
seventeenth  century  and  by  1765,  when  Spain  took  possession, 
French  culture  was  so  entrenched  that  the  appointment  of  the 
Spanish  governor  caused  an  insurrection  that  cost  many  lives. 
But  the  Spanish  had  come  to  stay,  and  marriage  and  interbreed- 


The  Creoles  —  139 

ing  were  inevitable.  It  was  even  the  newcomers  who  gave  the 
Creoles  their  name.  Criollo,  eventually  corrupted  to  Criado,  was 
the  Spanish  name  for  children  born  in  the  colonies.  Adopting 
this,  the  French  speedily  changed  it  to  Creole. 

In  1803  Louisiana  passed  back  to  France,  but  the  joy  of  reunion 
with  the  mother  country  was  short-lived.  Napoleon,  conquering 
Europe  and  in  need  of  cash,  quickly  sold  the  territory  to  the 
United  States.  There  were  protests  from  the  Creoles,  but  no 
uprisings  this  time.  They  watched  the  changing  of  the  flags 
fluttering  above  the  Place  d'Armes  with  heavy  hearts,  but 
quietly,  solemnly.  Already  the  determination  to  live  within 
themselves  must  have  been  engendering  in  their  minds.  These 
Americans  might  come  to  New  Orleans,  but  never  would  they 
enter  its  inner  circles.  They  would  always  remain  foreigners. 
The  impregnable  barriers  went  up.  The  bitter  struggle  against 
Americanization  had  begun. 

Creoles  were  predominantly  French,  though  much  Spanish 
blood  had  been  absorbed.  Some  German  and  Irish  settlers  also 
intermarried  in  the  early  days,  but  all  the  national  characteris- 
tics of  these  peoples  seem  to  have  completely  vanished.  They 
became  'so  Frenchified,'  says  Gayarre,  'that  they  appear  to  be 
of  Gallic  parentage.'  German  family  names  were,  in  many 
instances,  literally  translated;  Zweig,  for  instance,  became 
La  Branche.  An  Irish  family  of  O'Briens  pronounced  their  name 
Obreeong ! 

All  Creole  children  received  a  French  education.  Often  the 
boys  were  sent  to  Paris,  and  the  girls  were  instructed  in  local 
convents  guided  by  French  nuns.  French  thought,  literature  and 
art  impregnated  them  so  deeply  that  they  existed  in  a  completely 
French  culture,  their  ideas  and  manners  as  much  imported  as 
their  household  furnishings,  wines,  books,  clothes  and  pictures. 

No  true  Creole  ever  had  colored  blood.  This  erroneous  belief, 
still  common  among  Americans  in  other  sections  of  the  country, 
is  probably  due  to  the  Creoles'  own  habit  of  calling  their 
slaves  'Creole  slaves'  and  often  simply  'Creoles.'  Too,  there 
are  proud  light-colored  families  in  New  Orleans  today  who 
are  known  as  'Creoles'  among  themselves.  But  Creoles  were 
always  pure  white.  Any  trace  of  cafe  au  lait  in  a  family  was 
reason  for  complete  ostracism. 


/  4  o  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Among  themselves  Creoles  divided  into  various  castes  or 
strata,  both  socially  and  financially,  though  no  one  seems  ever 
to  have  agreed  as  to  the  category  in  which  his  family  belonged. 
There  were  Creoles,  Chacks,  Chacas,  Catchoupines,  Chacalatas, 
Bambaras  and  Bitacaux.  The  term  'Chacalata,'  for  instance, 
indicated  much  the  same  thing  as  does  *  Hoosier'  or  ' countrified'; 
'Bambaras'  (untidiness)  perhaps  hinted  at  uncleanliness. 
'Cachumas'  were  those  whose  ancestors  had  acquired  a  strain  of 
cafe  noir,  and  even  today  in  the  Barataria  section  this  term  is 
sometimes  heard. 

Everything  they  used  or  possessed  received,  like  their  slaves, 
the  Creole  appellation:  their  cooking,  horses,  chickens,  vege- 
tables and  axe -handles.  To  become  acclimated  was  to  be 
'Creolized.' 

They  were  seven  to  one  in  the  city  in  1803 ,  three  to  one  in  1812., 
only  two  to  one  by  1830.  But  between  1812.  and  the  Civil  War 
they  were  wealthiest  and  their  influence  most  dominant. 

And  this  was  not  entirely  confined  to  New  Orleans.  Many  of 
the  plantations  lining  both  sides  of  the  Mississippi  River  be- 
longed to  them.  Far  out  in  western  Louisiana,  in  the  land  of  the 
Attacapan  Indians  and  the  Cajuns,  they  founded  a  little  town 
then  known  as  Petit  Paris.  Here  French  noblemen,  refugees  from 
the  Revolution  and  'Madame  Guillotine,'  tried  to  recreate  the 
courtly  days  just  past,  and  Petit  Paris  was  soon  a  tiny  Versailles, 
the  residence  of  such  as  Le  Baron  du  Cloyal,  Le  Chevalier  Louis 
de  Blanc  and  Le  Comte  Louis  de  la  Houssaye.  Later  Petit  Paris 
became  St.  Martin ville. 

In  New  Orleans  the  Creoles  were  resentful  and  contemptuous 
of  the  American  strangers,  even  considered  them  wicked.  'They 
do  not  even  attach  importance  to  the  Commandment  of  honoring 
their  fathers  and  mothers,'  wrote  one  shocked  Creole  lady.  '  The 
sons  marry  to  please  themselves,  and  even  the  daughters  do  not 
ask  their  parents'  permission!'  For  the  Creole  boy  or  girl  who 
married  one  of  these  'foreigners'  there  was  no  forgiveness;  they 
had  stepped  beyond  the  pale. 

The  Creoles  refused  to  speak  English.  The  Americans  refused 
to  speak  French.  Creole  boys  ran  behind  Americans  in  the 
streets  singing  this  taunting  song: 


The  Creoles  —  141 

'Mericain  coquin  'Merican  rogues 

Bille  en  naquin  Dressed  in  nankeen 

Voleur  di  pain  Stole  loaves  of  bread 

Che%  Miche  D' Again!  From  Mr.  D'Aquin! 

Monsieur  D'Aquin  was  a  well-known  baker  in  the  Vieux 
Carre. 

Americans  reacted  by  disliking  the  Creoles  with  equal  enthu- 
siasm. One  wrote  home  to  New  England,  'Smiles  and  bows  are 
abundant  and  cheap  and  in  these  they  are  profuse  and  liberal,  but 
there  is  little  sterling,  honest  friendship  in  existence;  and  exhibi- 
tion, outward  show  and  pretensions  are  the  ruling  passions!' 

Gradually  New  Orleans  became  not  one  city  but  two,  Canal 
Street  splitting  them  apart,  dividing  the  old  Creole  city  from  the 
'uptown'  section,  where  the  Americans  were  rapidly  settling. 
To  cross  Canal  Street  in  either  direction  was  to  enter  another 
world.'  Even  today  these  differences  are  noticeable. 

Among  themselves,  Creoles  were  warm,  affectionate,  ex- 
tremely loyal.  Lafamille  was  the  very  core  of  their  life,  and,  like 
the  humbler  Cajuns,  this  extended  to  the  utmost  limits  of  rela- 
tionship. Cable  wrote:  'One  thing  I  never  knew  a  Creole  to  do; 
he  will  not  utterly  go  back  on  the  ties  of  blood,  no  matter  what 
sort  of  knots  those  ties  may  be.  For  one  reason  he  is  ashamed  of 
his  or  his  father's  sins;  for  another  he  will  tell  you  he  is  all 
heart. ' 

Creole  gentlemen  could  only  enter  certain  professions  and  oc- 
cupations. Most  of  them  were  planters,  bankers,  brokers  in  rice, 
sugar  or  cotton,  occasionally  clerks  in  establishments  of  these 
types.  Sometimes  they  ventured  into  politics.  They  were  barred 
from  entering  trade  or  working  in  a  store  or  shop.  Because  of 
these  rigid  limitations  in  their  caste  system,  ambition  was  often 
stunted,  opportunity  ignored.  No  Creole  could  do  anything  that 
would  cause  him  to  work  with  his  hands  or  to  remove  his  coat. 
A  gentleman  never  appeared  in  public  without  coat,  cravat  and 
gloves. 

Most  family  heads  had  a  few  faineants  —  loafers  —  in  their 
homes  who  could  not  —  or  would  not  —  work.  These  relatives 
or  old  friends  must  be  supported,  and  usually  without  complaint. 
Occasionally  a  male  faineant  might  be  jokingly  accused  of  having 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

les  cotes  en  long  —  vertical  ribs;  this  was  the  extent  of  the  criti- 
cism. Of  course  there  was  no  way  in  which  any  Creole  woman 
could  earn  money,  so  spinster  tantes  —  aunts  —  and  cousines  must 
be  'carried  on.'  Many  of  these  more  than  earned  their  mainte- 
nance, however,  in  helping  to  raise  the  children.  Aged  relatives 
and  orphans  could  never  be  placed  in  an  institution.  No  Creole 
was  ever  guilty  of  such  a  thought. 

Within  the  Creole  world  the  father  was  absolute  head  of  his 
household  and  his  word  was  final  in  all  matters.  Merely  to  upset 
any  of  his  convictions  required  tremendous  skill  and  subtlety  on 
the  part  of  his  wife,  combined  with  every  tante  and  cousine  in 
la  famille.  But  this  Creole  father  was  always  generous,  devoted, 
kind  to  a  fault,  unless  some  member  of  his  household  trans- 
gressed one  of  the  rules  set  down  to  keep  the  family  free  of  scan- 
dale;  then  his  wrath  was  terrible,  sometimes  without  forgive- 
ness; otherwise  he  would  lavish  all  he  possessed  or  could  earn 
on  his  numerous  children  and  perhaps  a  half-dozen  faineants. 

The  Creole  mother,  though  she  might  have  been  a  beauty  in 
her  day,  was  nearly  always  of  generous  proportions.  Creole 
ladies  did  not  diet,  and  meals  were  always  sumptuous.  She  was 
an  excellent  housekeeper  —  economical,  hospitable  and  a  de- 
voted mother.  Usually  she  possessed  an  equal  number  of  social 
assets,  was  a  skilled  dancer,  a  charming  conversationalist,  a  per- 
fect hostess,  and  accomplished  in  all  the  graces  and  manners  of 
her  world.  Deeply  religious,  she  prodded  her  men  toward  the 
Church  and  saw  that  the  children  were  trained  in  all  its  teach- 
ings. She  was  loyal  to  her  husband  until  death.  Even  if  she 
knew  he  maintained  a  beautiful  quadroon  in  a  separate  establish- 
ment, no  word  of  the  matter  ever  passed  her  lips.  At  her  hus- 
band's death  she  invariably  manifested  great  grief,  rarely  remar- 
ried, and  always  observed  strictest  mourning  in  dress  and  deport- 
ment for  the  required  period  of  several  years. 

Many  widowers  remarried,  however.  It  was  considered  that 
the  children  should  have  a  mother  and  frequently  a  match  was 
arranged  for  the  man,  often  to  his  deceased  mate's  sister,  should 
there  be  one  unmarried.  Thus  many  a  Creole  spinster  was  saved 
from  an  —  in  her  day  —  ignominious  role  in  life  by  her  sister's 
death. 


The  Creoles  —  143 

Early  travelers  through  Louisiana  wrote  of  the  Mississippi 
River  water  and  its  marvelous  effect  on  the  fecundity  of  the  Cre- 
ole woman.  Ten  or  more  children  was  the  average  for  any  fam- 
ily, and  the  father's  respect  for  the  mother  increased  with  each 
additional  birth.  There  was  once  a  prominent  Creole  judge  who, 
with  true  Creole  values  of  courtliness,  paid  his  wife  a  formal  call 
each  time  she  bore  him  a  child,  which  was  practically  every 
year.  A  few  hours  after  the  birth  he  would  don  his  most  formal 
attire,  including  tall  silk  hat,  long  cape  and  cane,  step  into  her 
bedchamber,  remove  his  hat  with  a  sweeping  bow,  and  present 
her  with  a  bouquet  and  his  congratulations. 

From  the  lips  of  the  Creole  mother  sprang  many  of  the  prov- 
erbs which  have  become  famous :  Ta  finesse  est  cousue  de  fil  blanc  — 
Your  shrewdness  is  sewed  with  white  thread;  Chacun  sait  ce  qui 
bouille  dans  se  chaudure  —  Each  one  knows  what  boils  in  his  own 
pot  (in  the  close-knit  Creole  society  everyone  else  knew  as 
well!);  On  lave  son  linge  sal  en  jamille  —  Wash  your  dirty  clothes 
in  your  own  family;  Dans  le  pays  des  aveugles,  les  borgnes  sont  rots  — 
In  the  country  of  the  blind  the  nearsighted  are  kings;  Elle  joue  a  la 
chandelle  —  She  plays  the  candle  (applied  to  the  mother  of  a  girl 
who  would  not  go  to  bed  until  the  girl's  beaux  went  home);  and 
C est  la  fee  Carabos  —  literally,  She  is  the  fairy  Carabos  (meaning 
an  ugly,  quarrelsome  woman). 

Among  its  slaves  every  Creole  family  had  a  Negress  as  nurse 
for  the  young  children.  The  importance  of  Mammy  in  the  house- 
hold and  the  extent  of  her  influence  over  her  young  charges  can 
scarcely  be  overestimated.  Through  all  her  life  she  shared  the 
children's  affection  with  the  parents.  When  Mammy  grew  old, 
she  was  retired,  the  family  supporting  her  to  the  end  of  her  days. 
At  her  death  the  now  adult  people  she  had  raised,  often  several 
generations,  grieved  deeply. 

Years  after  her  passing,  a  Creole  woman  wrote  of  her  nurse : 

4  Her  devotion  was  so  great  she  would  make  any  sacrifice  for 
us;  her  money  was  our  money;  all  she  had  was  for  her  dear  chil- 
dren. In  sickness  she  would  spend  sleepless  nights  watching  over 
us  while  our  parents  slept.  She  would  come  into  our  rooms  dur- 
ing the  night  to  see  that  we  were  properly  covered.  When  we 
grew  older  and  began  to  go  out  at  night  to  balls  or  to  the  the- 


144  — 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 


ater,  Mammy  sat  up  by  the  downstairs  fire  and  awaited  our  re- 
turn, anxious  to  hear  the  details  of  the  party,  to  give  us  a  bite  to 
eat  and  to  tuck  us  into  bed. 

'But  Mammy  could  be  stern  and  she  would  not  hesitate  to 
punish  us  if  we  needed  it.  When  we  were  small  Mammy  had  a 
terrible  time  on  Saturday  nights.  When  we  saw  her  carrying  in 
the  tub  of  warm  water,  the  soap  and  washrag,  there  was  a  battle 
royal,  but  Mammy  always  won. 

'The  greatest  treat  of  all  was  to  awaken  every  morning  to 
Mammy's  words,  "  Alb  vous  cafe,"  and  see  her  standing  beside 
your  bed,  her  round  black  face  broken  with  a  white  smile,  her 
tignon  neatly  tied  about  her  head  and  pushed  high  with  a  comb 
worn  underneath,  her  spotless  apron  stiff  with  starch,  a  tray  in 
her  hands  on  which  was  piping-hot  drip  coffee,  ground  and 
roasted  at  home. 

'  Mammy  was  really  the  boss  of  the  house,  was  consulted  on  all 
subjects.  Father  and  Mother  often  went  to  her  for  advice  and  her 
judgment  was  always  wise  and  sound. 

'  Her  death  plunged  us  deeply  into  grief.  She  had  been  in  the 
family  for  sixty  years.  Her  funeral  was  most  dignified,  my 
father  and  uncles  serving  as  pallbearers;  and  she  was  laid  to  rest 
in  the  family  tomb  in  old  St.  Louis  Cemetery  No.  i.  I  remember 
wearing  mourning  for  months  and  refusing  to  go  to  any  place  of 
amusement.  The  mammies  of  that  era  should  have  a  monument 
raised  to  their  memories,  for  their  lives  were  filled  with  devotion 
and  self-sacrifice  for  their  white  families.' 

Mammy  invariably  spoke  Creole,  the  soft  patois  Negroes  de- 
veloped from  their  attempts  to  speak  French  and  which,  like 
everything  else  the  Creoles  used,  received  their  name,  though  the 
Anglo-Saxon  element  in  the  city  referred  to  the  dialect  as 
'  Gombo.'  This  tongue,  really  far  more  expressive  and  beautiful 
to  the  ear  than  a  mere  dialect,  was  moreover,  sentimental,  slyly 
humorous,  often  filled  with  sharp  aspersions  against  the  whites, 
bitter  and  merciless  in  its  indictment  of  those  colored  people  who 
imitated  their  white  masters.  '  Toucoutou'  is  an  example  of  the 
latter  in  song  —  '  there  is  no  soap  white  enough  to  wash  your 
skin.'  (See  'Songs,'  page  42.8.) 

Mammy  had  her  male  prototype,  too.    Many  an  old  'Uncle* 


The  Creoles  —145 

was  as  well  loved  within  the  family  circle.  A  present-day  Creole 
described  Prosper  Ernest  Fournier,  famous  in  Creole  New  Or- 
leans as  the  perfect  male  servant,  saying :  '  Prosper  was  a  Negro 
with  the  instincts  and  culture  of  a  white  gentleman.  He  was  one 
of  the  most  polished  individuals  with  whom  I  have  ever  had  the 
pleasure  of  shaking  hands.' 

Prosper,  no  part-caste  Negro,  but  full-blooded  African,  was  a 
great  cook,  an  authority  on  the  opera  and  operatic  voices  and  a 
student  of  the  French  and  English  classics.  He  was  only  em- 
ployed by  two  families  in  his  life.  A  member  of  one  of  the  fam- 
ilies for  whom  he  worked  remembered: 

'  He  remained  aloof  from  the  other  servants,  both  black  and 
white,  but  was  scrupulously  polite  in  his  relations  with  the 
family.  The  only  place  that  was  taboo  was  his  kitchen.  We 
respected  that  and  rarely  entered  that  room  without  an  invita- 
tion. Like  many  other  slave  cooks  he  had,  in  his  youth,  been 
apprenticed  to  a  great  chef  in  Paris,  and  after  a  number  of  years 
had  returned,  stating  that  he  wished  to  prove  that  his  master's 
trust  had  borne  fruit,  and  his  cooking  was  an  exquisite  art.  He 
insisted  on  writing  a  menu  each  day  and  this  was  placed  before 
my  father  at  the  sacred  dinner  hour,  to  be  passed  to  the  rest  of 
the  family  after  his  perusal.  Prosper  was  very  strict  about  the 
dinner  hour.  Seven  P.M.  was  seven  P.M.;  he  always  reminded  us 
that  a  delay  of  five  minutes  ruined  a  dish. 

'Prosper  never  left  the  house  except  to  go  to  market,  to 
church,  and  each  Saturday  night  (the  fashionable  night)  to  the 
French  Opera.  On  the  latter  occasions  he  rode  in  the  family  car- 
riage with  us,  then  went  upstairs  to  the  top  balcony  reserved  for 
colored  people.  Here  he  had  always  the  same  seat,  in  the  front 
row,  center.  Whenever  any  white  person  he  knew  entered  one 
of  the  dress  circle  boxes  he  would  rise  and  offer  them  a  Chester- 
fieldian  bow,  which  they  always  returned.  Then,  the  cynosure 
of  all  the  other  Negroes'  eyes,  he  devoted  himself  to  the  per- 
formance. I  have  heard  many  well-known  music  lovers  ask  his 
opinion  of  the  leading  voices  of  a  troupe,  and  he  would  always 
state  his  views  respectfully  but  frankly,  and  his  judgment  was 
always  accepted.  When  a  famous  diva  gave  a  farewell  perform- 
ance in  New  Orleans,  an  authority  on  the  opera  asked  Prosper 


146  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

his  opinion.  "She  should  never  have  been  permitted  to  sing  in 
this  city  again,"  was  the  answer,  "for  her  once  incomparable 
voice  is  now  forever  gone. ' '  The  man  was  stupefied.  ' '  I  thought 
so,  too,"  he  admitted,  "but  I  did  not  dare  express  myself.  I  am 
glad,  though,  that  you  have  indicated  my  own  musical  sense." 

'  Prosper  was  a  connoisseur  of  fine  wines,  and  insisted  that  to 
cook  without  wine  was  an  absolute  impossibility.  However,  he 
imbibed  only  a  demi-bouteille  of  claret  while  having  his  dinner  — 
in  solitary  state.  He  held  the  keys  to  the  cellar  and  never  asked 
permission  to  do  this.  Each  day  when  he  drew  the  claret, 
Madeira,  sherry  and  sauterne  for  the  various  dishes,  he  added  his 
due"  irrespective  of  who  was  present.  He  would  discuss  freely 
with  my  father  as  to  its  qualities  and  bouquet  as  compared  to 
the  other  vintages  on  the  shelves. 

'  He  took  good  care  of  the  boys  in  the  house.  If  any  of  us  were 
sick  he  insisted  on  sitting  up  by  our  beds  all  night,  and  no  nurse 
could  have  given  us  better  care  than  this  tall,  dignified  black 
man.  If  any  of  us  came  home  very  late  after  a  rather  intemperate 
evening,  he  would  sneak  us  into  the  house  without  Father  hear- 
ing us.  Once  my  brother  was  particularly  noisy  and  Prosper  had 
to  hold  him  tight  and  put  a  firm  hand  over  his  mouth  to  keep 
him  from  singing  and  shouting.  Father  awoke  and  came  part  of 
the  way  down  the  stairs,  demanding  to  know  what  was  going 
on.  Prosper  lied  like  a  gentleman,  saying  that  he  had  been  un- 
able to  sleep  and  had  been  walking  in  the  garden.  Father  told 
him  he  was  crazy,  then  returned  to  his  room,  and  Prosper  man- 
aged to  get  that  young  man  to  bed  without  his  ever  knowing  the 
truth. 

'  Prosper  came  to  a  sad  end.  There  was  an  old  mulat tress  who 
did  some  of  the  family  washing,  and  who  was  held  in  great  awe 
by  all  the  Negroes  as  a  witch  and  a  seeress.  Once  she  kept  some 
of  our  curtains  too  long  and  Prosper  offered  to  go  and  get  them. 
The  other  servants  advised  him  not  to,  but  he  laughed  at  their 
fears.  Returning,  he  told  his  brother,  who  was  our  gardener 
and  general  utility  man,  * '  Guess  what  Clementine  told  me?  She 
said  you  will  be  dead  within  a  week  and  that  I  shall  be  in  the  in- 
sane asylum!"  He  thought  this  was  a  great. joke,  since  he  was 
too  well  educated  to  be  at  all  superstitious. 


The  Creoles  -  147 

'  But  within  a  week  his  brother  was  run  over  by  a  cotton  float 
and  instantly  killed.  A  few  days  later  Prosper,  returning  from 
market,  went  stark  mad,  throwing  his  marketing  and  money  all 
over  the  street  and  yelling  like  a  Comanche  Indian.  He  had  to 
be  placed  in  a  mental -disease  hospital.  When  he  emerged  he  was 
a  shrunken,  stooped  old  man.  He  did  not  live  much  longer.  Be- 
fore he  died  he  made  a  last  request.  No  colored  man  must  touch 
his  coffin.  This  wish  was  granted  and  some  of  the  most  promi- 
nent business  men  in  New  Orleans  bore  Prosper  Ernest  Fournier's 
casket  to  the  grave.' 

The  importance  of  these  servants  —  the  Mammies  and  the 
'  Prospers'  -  -  cannot  be  overestimated  in  their  influence  on  Cre- 
ole family  life.  Mammy's  influence  was  so  great  and  so  much  of 
her  time  was  spent  with  her  children  that  most  young  Creoles 
grew  up  speaking  the  language.  Gradually  it  became  the  custom 
to  speak  Creole  even  in  the  drawing-rooms  at  times,  for  it  was 
far  more  native  to  Louisiana  than  French  could  ever  be,  and  more 
flexible,  being  capable  of  turns  and  twists  impossible  in  French. 

As  a  whole,  Creole  children  were  very  spoiled,  but  their  re- 
strictions were  many.  They  were  seldom  allowed  to  speak  at  the 
table,  except  at  dessert,  when  the  whole  family  would  sing. 

Coco  Robichaux  must  have  been  a  little  sister  of  the  modern 
'little  man  who  wasn't  there,'  though  she  was  very  much  alive 
in  the  mind  of  every  Creole  child.  No  one  ever  knew  who  she 
was  or  where  she  lived  or  what  she  looked  like,  but  poor  Coco 
Robichaux  received  the  blame  for  everything.  Every  time  a 
naughty  little  girl  did  something  she  shouldn't,  she  was  told, 
'  You  didn't  do  that.  That  was  the  Coco  Robichaux!'  or,  'A  nice 
little  girl  like  you  wouldn't  do  that.  Only  Coco  Robichaux 
could  be  so  naughty.'  The  only  thing  really  known  about  this 
Coco  Robichaux  was  that  she  was  very,  very  bad.  She  had  all 
the  faults  any  child  between  two  and  ten  could  possibly  possess. 

Children  loved  to  help  clarify  the  drinking  water.  In  all 
houses  there  were  several  large  jars,  called  ollas,  which  were  kept 
filled  with  Mississippi  water.  A  lump  of  alum  was  dropped  in, 
and  the  children  would  stir  for  hours,  until  the  water  was  puri- 
fied. 

School  started  at  eight  or  nine  years  of  age.    The  primary 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

training  was  usually  received  in  the  private  establishment  in  the 
home  of  some  spinster  in  financial  straits.  After  First  Com- 
munion, at  the  age  of  twelve,  the  boys  were  sent  to  study  with 
the  Jesuit  Fathers,  while  the  girls  entered  convents. 

When  she  finished  at  the  convent,  the  young  Creole  lady  made 
her  initial  appearance  at  the  French  Opera  House,  was  given  a 
reception' and  thus  considered  launched  in  society.  There  were 
no  debutantes;  a  girl  was  usually  as  popular  her  third  season  out 
as  during  her  first.  This  initial  appearance  at  the  Opera  House 
was  the  only  event  similar  to  the  modern  debut.  For  the  occa- 
sion she  wore  a  gorgeous  gown  imported  from  Paris,  carried  a 
bouquet  with  long  ribbon  streamers  and  a  fine  lace  fan. 

Accompanied  by  her  parents,  the  girl  would  receive  callers  in 
the  box  rented  for  the  performance.  Between  the  acts  the  young 
men  would  drop  in  to  pay  compliments"  and  their  respects  to  the 
chaperons.  And,  behind  their  fluttering  fans,  the  gossips  would 
watch  each  box  closely,  keeping  careful  count  of  the  number  of 
male  visitors  each  received,  for  by  this  was  a  girl's  popularity 
gauged. 

The  Creole  girl  was  schooled  in  self-effacement.  Her  picture 
must  never  appear  in  the  newspapers  nor  must  a  single  line  ever 
be  written  about  her.  When  a  young  man  wished  to  call,  it  was 
necessary  that  he  have  a  friend  act  as  intermediary  and  ask  the 
permission  of  the  girl's  father. 

But  the  young  couple  were  never  allowed  to  be  alone.  If  the 
youth  were  guilty  of  any  wishful  thinking,  it  was  soon  dis- 
pelled, and  completely.  His  fate  usually  was  to  spend  the  eve- 
ning playing  a  riotous  game  of  dominoes  with  the  girl's  father, 
while  the  mother  and  tantes  questioned  him  regarding  family 
background,  financial  and  social  assets. 

No  great  importance  was  attached  to  this  first  visit.  However, 
should  he  continue  to  call,  and  not  mention  his  intentions,  the 
parents  would  demand  that  he  do  so,  without  hesitation.  There 
was  no  respect  or  time  to  be  wasted  on  a  young  man  with  le  ccsur 
comme  un  artichaud  —  a  heart  like  an  artichoke  (that  is,  a  leaf  for 
everyone).  Creole  girls  had  no  time  to  waste  on  flirts.  Marriage 
was  the  entire  aim  of  their  lives.  And  if  unmarried  at  twenty-five 
hope  was  forsaken;  they  'might  as  well  throw  their  corsets  on 


The  Creoles  -  149 

the  armoire.'  An  unmarried  girl  was  never  permitted  to  wear  a 
velvet  dress,  though  she  might  have  one  in  her  hope  chest.  After 
the  fatal  twenty-five,  if  unmarried,  she  was  supposed  to  adopt  the 
hooded  bonnet  with  ribbons  that  tied  under  her  chin. 

Should  a  young  man  fall  in  love  and  wish  to  marry  the  girl  he 
had  been  visiting,  his  friend  was  called  into  service  again  in  the 
capacity  of  a  John  Alden,  only  her  father  must  be  approached 
again  and  asked  for  his  daughter's  hand.  The  young  lady  had 
nothing  to  do  with  it.  The  whole  exciting  situation  created  an 
occasion  that  demanded  the  utmost  caution,  tact  and  diplomacy. 
Accepted,  the  prospective  groom  and  his  father  called  on  the 
girl's  father  and  every  obstacle  was  cleared  away.  Each  family 
carefully  scrutinized  the  family  tree  of  the  other.  Material 
wealth  meant  little,  la  famille  was  everything.  Did  they  come 
from  a  good  family?  Were  they  even  faintly  of  the  gens  du 
commurti  Even  that  really  unmentionable  consideration  must  be 
investigated;  was  there  any  possible  trace  of  cafe  au  laitt  All  the 
skeletons  were  dragged  forth  for  inspection. 

Only  when  both  parties  had  passed  this  rigid  examination  did 
material  considerations  enter.  But  they  were  by  no  means  neg- 
lected. A  formal  marriage  contract  was  drawn  up,  listing  the 
boy's  and  the  girl's  financial  assets;  properties,  furniture,  num- 
ber, names,  worth  and  capacity  of  slaves,  and  cash  —  all  were 
included.  The  girl's  dowry,  usually  ranging  from  one  to  forty 
thousand  dollars,  was  submitted  to  the  examination  of  the 
young  man  and  his  father.  Despite  all  this,  husbands  were  valu- 
able for  their  own  sakes,  and  should  the  youth  be  unable  to  sup- 
port a  wife,  this  was  no  bar  to  the  marriage.  Often  the  bride's 
father  would  find  or  create  a  place  for  him  in  his  business,  if  his 
background  were  satisfactory. 

Creole  women  always  enjoyed  a  reputation  for  great  beauty. 
Some  of  the  Americans  coming  to  their  city  were  tactless  enough 
to  remark  that  they  were  a  bit  plump,  but  others,  perhaps  liking 
the  well-fed  appearance,  penned  ecstatic  praise  home  to  New 
England. 

One,  evidently  completely  enchanted  by  the  New  Orleans 
girls,  wrote:  'In  entering  a  sanctuary  the  soul  bows  down.  The 
pen  feels  moved  when  it  touches  upon  a  sacred  subject.  The 


1 5  o  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

flower  and  woman  are  two  treasures;  the  flower  must  have  its 
perfume  and  woman  her  soul,  a  perfume  that  is  more  fragrant 
and  less  ephemeral.  One  finds  in  the  traits  of  the  Creole  a  dis- 
tinction perfect  in  harmony  and  form.  Pure  profiles,  patrician 
lines,  oval  and  delicate  chiseling,  lacking  in  vigor  perhaps  —  a 
little  aerial  —  the  ethereal  dominating  the  material,  the  ideal 
combating  reality.' 

Luxuriant  hair  was  the  pride  of  every  Creole  lady.  Washing 
it  was  a  rite.  When  it  began  to  gray,  she  secretly  darkened  it 
with  coffee.  Creoles  denied  using  rouge  and  makeup,  admitting 
only  that  occasionally  a  girl  might  rub  her  cheeks  with  crushed 
rose  petals,  but  the  Americans  accused  them  of  much  elaborate 
artificial  embellishment,  though  they  admitted  that  it  was  done 
with  great  art.  And  they  always  took  extreme  good  care  of  their 
complexions,  wearing  veils  when  out-of-doors  at  all  times.  Sun 
tan,  instead  of  being  valued  as  now,  was  considered  disgraceful, 
indeed  it  might  start  ghastly  rumors  of  caje  au  lait! 

They  loved  fine  clothes.  No  woman  would  ever  leave  her  home 
unless  completely  attired,  including  gloves  and  veil.  For  evening 
wear  most  of  their  gowns  were  imported  from  Paris,  and  their 
beauty  was  accentuated  with  many  jewels. 

The  Creole  girl  was  never  left  alone  with  her  young  man,  even 
after  the  engagement  was  announced.  Often  the  entire  family 
remained  in  the  parlor  throughout  the  evening.  And  when  they 
went  out,  the  future  husband  must  expect  plenty  of  company.  It 
was  perfectly  proper  that  as  many  members  of  the  family  ac- 
company them  as  felt  so  inclined. 

After  the  formal  announcement  of  the  betrothal  there  was  the 
dejeuner  de  fian$ailles  —  engagement  breakfast  —  which  all  mem- 
bers of  both  families  attended.  The  ring,  presented  to  the  girl  at 
this  event,  was  not  the  usual  solitaire  of  today,  but  a  large  ruby 
surrounded  by  diamonds,  in  a  flat,  yellow  gold  setting. 

As  the  wedding  day  approached,  the  future  groom  presented 
his  bride-to-be  with  the  corbeille  de  noce  —  wedding  basket.  This 
contained  several  articles  of  lace  —  a  handkerchief,  veil  and  fan 
—  a  Cashmere  shawl,  gloves  and  bits  of  jewelry.  None  of  the 
jewelry  was  ever  worn  before  the  wedding  day,  nor  could  she 
leave  home  for  three  days  before  the  marriage. 


Old  Creole  Ladies  Dream  of  the  Opulent  Past 


Spiders  Dwell  in  Haunted  Houses 


c    ^ 


Loup-Garou  Holds  his  Convention  on  Bayou  Goula 


He  Believes  Everything 


The  Creoles  —  j  j  j 

Monday  and  Tuesday  were  fashionable  days  for  weddings, 
Saturday  and  Sunday  being  considered  'common*  and  Friday 
'Hangman's  Day.'  The  latter  was  the  day  for  all  local  execu- 
tions. 

For  many  years  the  old  Saint  Louis  Cathedral  had  a  detail  of 
Swiss  Guards,  who  met  all  wedding  and  fuperal  processions 
and  preceded  them  up  the  aisle.  Behind  them,  at  the  wedding, 
would  walk  the  bride,  accompanied  by  her  father.  Then  came 
the  groom,  escorting  the  bride's  mother.  Next  would  be  the 
groom's  mother  and  father,  the  best  man  escorting  a  sister  or 
some  other  relative  pf  the  bride,  followed  by  every  brother, 
sister,  aunt,  uncle  and  cousin  either  of  the  pair  possessed. 

The  bride's  gown  was  usually  of  tulle  or  silk  muslin,  trimmed 
with  pearls  and  lace  handed  down  through  generations  in  la 
familk.  She  wore  a  short  veil,  orange  blossoms  in  her  hair,  car- 
ried a  bouquet.  There  were  no  ring  bearers,  no  matron  or  maid 
of  honor,  nor  any  floral  decorations  in  the  church.  The  ceremony 
was  always  iri  the  evening,  as  Creoles  would  have  considered  it 
embarrassing  to  have  the  couple  around  all  day  after  a  morning 
marriage.  Thus,  as  the  Catholic  Church  does  not  permit  the  cel- 
ebration of  Mass  after  noon,  Creoles  were  never  married  at  Nupr 
tial  Mass.  Not  until  1910,  when  the  Archbishop  issued  a  decree 
forbidding  Catholics  to  marry  in  church  after  twelve  o'clock 
noon,  did  marriages  at  Mass  become  popular  in  New  Orleans. 

The  wedding  ring,  called  the  alliance  ring,  was  a  double  ring 
of  gold,  which  when  opened  became  two  interlocking  bands 
revealing  the  initials  of  the  bride  and  groom  and  the  date  of  the 
wedding.  Both  parties  wore  alliance  rings.  These  can  still  be 
purchased  in  New  Orleans. 

After  the  ceremony  all  the  relatives  signed  the  register,  some- 
times as  many  as  fifty.  Rice  was  never  thrown,  nor  did  the  bride 
toss  her  bouquet;  it  was  sent  to  the  church,  the  cemetery  or  to 
the  convent  where  she  had  been  educated. 

A  great  reception  always  followed.  Champagne  and  a  supper 
were  served.  The  bride  and  groom  mingled  for  an  hour  or  so, 
then  it  was  considered  decent  that  they  retire.  The  bride  cut  her 
cake,  every  girl  present  receiving  a  piece.  This  was  placed  under 
the  pillow  at  night  along  with  the  names  of  three  eligible  young 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

men  of  her  acquaintance.  The  one  she  dreamed  of  would  be  her 
husband  —  and  she  always  retired  determined  to  dream. 

The  Creole  newly  weds  went  on  no  honeymoon.  Usually  they 
remained  in  the  bride's  home.  After  the  hour  at  the  reception, 
the  bride  was  escorted  to  her  room  by  her  mother.  Here  she  was 
assisted  in  disrobing  and  carefully  dressed  in  the  hand-embroi- 
dered nightgown  and  negligee  made  for  this  great  occasion.  Her 
flowing  hair  was  tied  back  with  a  ribbon  or  perhaps  adorned 
with  an  elaborate  boudoir  cap.  Then  she  was  propped  against 
the  pillows  in  the  heavy  four-posted  bed  and  left  to  await  her 
new  husband.  The  Creole  bride,  often  sixteen  years  old,  and 
unbelievably  sheltered  until  now,  must  lie  there,  trembling  and 
frightened  at  the  unknown,  gazing  up  at  the  pale  blue  bridal 
tester  above  her  until  the  groom  appeared.  Apparently  young 
Creole  grooms  were  not  without  their  own  qualms.  One  cau- 
tiously carried  an  immense  umbrella  into  the  bridal  chamber  and 
undressed  behind  it ! 

These  bridal  testers,  at  least  the  most  elaborate  ones,  were  the 
creations  of  a  certain  Monsieur  Dufau,  a  merchant  at  37  Rue 
Chartres.  But  poor  M.  Dufau  was  the  victim  of  an  unfortunate 
occurrence  that  all  but  wrecked  his  career  and  business. 

This  gentleman's  shop  was  noted  for  its  objets  d'art,  bric-a-brac, 
and  fine  paintings.  But  the  most  famous  articles  of  merchandise 
were  the  artistically  fashioned  ciel-de-lits  or  testers.  These  were 
very  popular,  even  the  ordinary  ones  being  tastefully  made  of 
calico  or  sateen.  But  most  of  M.  Dufau 's  art  was  expended  on 
ciel-de-lits  for  brides.  These  were  always  of  pale  blue  silk,  gath- 
ered in  the  middle  by  gilt  ornaments.  Across  the  pale  blue 
heaven  chubby  cupids  would  chase  each  other  with  bows  and 
arrows,  pink  ribbons  modestly  draping  these  tiny  love  gods.  A 
wide  cream-colored  dentelle  valencienne,  the  finest  lace  obtainable, 
trimmed  the  edge.  It  all  combined  to  create  an  atmosphere  sym- 
bolizing eternal  love,  blue  horizons  and  rosy  dreams. 

Then  ruin  descended  upon  M.  Dufau.  A  member  of  a  club 
called  Le  Comite  des  Bon  Amis,  the  time  came  for  him  to  enter- 
tain his  good  friends.  And  it  seemed  that  an  extraordinarily 
good  piece  of  luck  occurred  at  about  the  same  time.  A  sailor 
offered  M.  Dufau  a  keg  of  rum  at  a  ridiculously  low  price.  Seiz- 


The  Creoles 

ing  this  opportunity,  the  merchant  bought  the  liquor  with  no 
loss  of  time  and  invited  his  friends  over  to  enjoy  it.  When  the 
first  round  of  drinks  was  passed  everyone  remarked  on  its  pe- 
culiar flavor.  The  second  drink  was  so  bad  that  no  one  could 
finish  it. 

There  was  great  consternation  and  curiosity.  An  axe  was 
brought  and  M.  Dufau  himself  split  the  keg  open.  What  met  the 
eyes  of  his  guests  was  enough  to  stand  their  hair  on  end.  Inside 
the  keg,  sitting  upright,  in  a  perfect  state  of  preservation,  was  a 
little  old  man  with  long  whiskers! 

Poor  M.  Dufau,  though  technically  cleared  of  any  connection 
with  the  corpse  in  the  rum,  was  immediately  banished  from  his 
club,  and  he  received  no  more  orders  for  his  masterfully  fash- 
ioned bridal  ciel-de-lits. 

The  bride  and  groom  could  not  leave  their  room  for  at  least 
five  days !  Their  meals  were  brought  in  and  a  special  servant  as- 
signed to  their  needs.  The  bride  could  not  appear  on  the  streets 
for  at  least  two  weeks.  If  they  were  spending  their  '  honeymoon' 
at  the  groom's  house  or  in  a  home  of  their  own,  she  could  not 
even  visit  her  mother.  If  she  were  so  daring  as  to  do  this,  she 
could  be  sure  that  while  she  would  be  received  courteously,  her 
mother  would  not  fail  to  get  in  a  little  remark  about  the  shame 
and  indecency  of  being  seen  on  the  streets  after  having  so  re- 
cently married.  And  no  one  —  not  even  the  parents  —  called  on 
the  young  couple  during  these  two  weeks.  After  that  the  fam- 
ilies were  practically  one.  A  Frenchman  who  married  a  Creole 
girl  of  that  era  said  that  a  man  marrying  one  of  them  married  not 
only  the  girl  but  also  her  five  hundred  relatives! 

Charivaris  were  given  widows  and  widowers  who  remarried. 
Tin  pans  were  beaten,  cowbells  rung  and  as  much  noise  as  pos- 
sible made.  The  newly  weds  were  supposed  to  treat  the  cele- 
brants to  a  supper.  If  they  failed  to  do  this,  the  charivari  might 
continue  night  after  night. 

The  most  notable  charivari  ever  given  in  New  Orleans  was 
that  rendered  the  widow  of  Don  Andres  Almonester,  the  great 
benefactor  of  New  Orleans.  In  1798,  when  middle-aged,  she 
bestowed  her  hand  on  a  young  man  in  his  twenties,  Monsieur 
Castillon,  the  French  Consul  to  New  Orleans.  This  young  man 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

tous  most  unpopular  and  generally  conceded  to  be  a  fortune- 
hunter;  and  the  widow  was  considered  to  be  vain  and  selfish. 

The  charivari  that  followed  their  marriage  lasted  three  days 
and  nights.  The  house  in  which  the  couple  sought  shelter  was 
surrounded  by  hundreds,  many  on  horseback,  some  disguised  and 
wearing  masks.  Try  as  they  would,  the  newly  wedded  pair 
could  not  escape  their  tormentors.  Fleeing  the  house,  they  were 
followed  from  end  to  end  of  the  city,  across  the  Mississippi  River 
and  back.  Some  of  the  crowd  carried  along  a  coffin  on  a  cart, 
which  contained  an  effigy  of  Madame  Almonester's  first  hus- 
band, while  she  was  represented  by  a  living  person  sitting  beside 
it.  Finally,  the  newly  wedded  couple  had  to  give  three  thousand 
dollars  in  coin  for  the  poor.  Almost  immediately  afterward  they 
left  for  France. 

Long  after  charivaris  were  banned  irl  the  city,  they  continued 
in  the  country.  Arid  even  today  in  New  Orleans  many  a  married 
couple  is  driven  about  the  city,  followed  by  a  dozen  other  cars, 
all  blowing  horns  and  generally  making  as  much  noise  as  pos- 
sible. 

Weddings  on  Creole  plantations,  outside  the  city,  were  even 
more  elaborate  affairs.  Everything  was  ordered  from  New  Or- 
leans and  shipped  by  boat.  Wedding  cakes  and  nougat  pieces, 
fragile  as  they  Were,  would  arrive  undamaged.  Even  hair- 
dressers would  be  summoned  to  arrange  the  coiffures  of  the 
bride  and  the  other  ladies.  Five  hundred  guests  at  a  wedding 
was  not  unusual.  Often  the  bride's  father  chartered  a  steamboat 
to  bring  the  guests  out  to  the  plantation. 

The  Creole's  home  was  always  his  pride.  Especially  the  first 
parlor.  Whatever  wealth  or  pretensions  a  Creole  possessed  went 
into  this  room>  and  many  of  its  furnishings  were  imported  from 
France.  Never  was  this  salon  open  to  casual  intrusion,  but 
always  kept  tightly  closed  against  the  sun  and  air  so  that  the 
rugs  and  furniture  would  not  fade.  This  room  was  only  for  very 
special  company,  weddings,  funerals  and  celebrations.  Woe  to 
the  child  caught  entering  this  room. 

Most  prominent  feature  in  the  room  was  the  fireplace,  always 
of  marble  except  in  the  poorer  homes,  where  it  was  usually  brick. 
The  mantelpiece  was  always  elaborately  draped  and  a  huge  mir- 


The  Creoles 


ror,  framed  in  gold-leaf  or  gilt,  was  hung  above  it.  Before  the 
fireplace  gleamed  the  screen  and  andirons,  always  in  a  bright 
gold  finish.  The  furniture  was  apt  to  be  rosewood,  richly 
carved,  and  upholstered  in  expensive  silk  or  tapestry.  Along  the 
walls  were  oil  paintings  -of  ancestors.  There  were  always;  an 
etagere  —  whatnot  —  in  one  corner,  holding  china  and  bric-a- 
brac,  porcelain  vases  of  varied  design  and  an  ornate  crystal  chan- 
delier hanging  from  the  center  of  the  ceiling, 

The  second  parlor,  separated  from  the  first  by  a  porte  b  coulisse, 
so  that  when  these  folding  doors  were  thrown  open  the  two 
rooms  would  form  a  grand  salon  for  very  formal  occasions,  was 
neither  so  carefully  nor  so  expensively  furnished  as  the  first.  In 
this  room  the  family  gathered  evenings  to  talk  and  enjoy  their 
music  and  their  books.  Portraits  of  humbler  ancestors  than 
those  in  the  first  parlor  were  hung  here.  There  were  usually  or- 
namental wax  fruit,  wreaths  and  flowers  of  human  hair  —  all 
under  glass  —  statuettes  of  ivory  and  bronze,  antimacassars  on 
sofas  and  chairs  and  eventails  lataniers  —  palmetto  fans  —  in 
sand-filled  vases. 

Every  bedroom  in  the  house  contained  an  altar,  for  of  course 
all  Creoles  were  staunchly  Catholic,  usually  a  small  table  cov- 
ered with  blue  sateen  and  a  lace  cloth  with  a  wide  valance  and 
holding  candles,  votive  lights,  statues  of  favorite  saints  and 
holy  water.  There  were  four-posted  beds  with  testers,  tremen- 
dous armoires  with  full-length  mirrors,  washstands  holding  bowl 
and  pitcher  of  gaily  flowered  china  accompanied  by  numerous 
matching  receptacles. 

In  summer  the  floors  of  every  room  were  covered  with  mat- 
ting. This  was  not  removed  when  old  and  faded,  but  simply  cov- 
ered with  another  piece.  In  winter  the  rugs  were  laid  over  the 
matting. 

During  the  warmest  months  of  the  year,  the  Creole  practically 
lived  in  his  courtyard.  Here  was  an  outdoor  living-room,  walled 
with  tropical  greens.  Vines  entwined  the  white  pillars  of  the 
piazza,  and  climbed  up  the  tinted  walls  toward  the  green  shut- 
ters of  the  windows  that  gazed  downward  like  numerous  sleepy 
eyes.  Banana  trees  waved  their  huge  leaves  with  every  breeze. 
Large  urns  held  plants  of  every  sort.  Usually  a  fountain  bubbled 


156 —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

and  sang  in  the  center.  Along  the  gravel  walks  among  the 
flower  beds  benches  and  old-fashioned  rockers  were  set  out. 
Here  were  escape  from  the  heat  and  perfect  quiet  and  peace  for 
reading  or  for  conversation.  Creole  houses  often  faced  these 
patios,  were  built  with  their  backs  on  the  street,  their  salons 
opening  here.  There  were  always  balconies  above  — .still 
known  as  'galleries'  in  New  Orleans. 

The  Creoles  were  gay  and  festive.  The  ball,  the  theater,  pri- 
vate soirees  and  receptions  were  of  prime  importance.  Americans 
moving  into  the  city  thought  the  Creoles  pleasure-mad.  It  was 
nothing  for  a  Creole  girl,  amazingly  frail  for  all  other  purposes, 
to  dance  at  balls  for  four  nights  in  succession  without  showing 
the  least  sign  of  fatigue. 

When  they  could  afford  it  their  parties  were  tremendously 
elaborate  and  expensive.  After  one  of  General  Beauregard's  vic- 
tories, the  Creoles  of  New  Orleans  gave  him  a  party  during 
which  a  fountain  of  champagne  flowed  all  evening.  This  was 
set  up  in  the  center  of  the  salon  and  guests  had  only  to  hold  their 
glasses  under  the  golden  flow  to  refill  them. 

The  soiree,  a  party  less  formal  than  a  ball,  was  held  in  a  pri- 
vate home.  These  were  simple  but  delightful  affairs,  where 
young  couples  danced  far  into  the  night,  though  always,  of 
course,  under  the  watchful  eyes  of  parents,  t antes  and  all  the  rest 
of  la  famille. 

But  the  opera  was  really  the  center  of  all  Creole  social  life. 
Here,  in  the  old  French  Opera  House,  the  music  and  perform- 
ances were  unrivaled  anywhere  in  America.  Attendance  was  al- 
ways plentiful,  there  even  being  loges  grillees  —  screened  boxes 
where  men  escorting  women  of  questionable  reputation,  people 
in  mourning  and  pregnant  ladies  might  enjoy  the  opera  or  play 
without  being  seen.  Often,  after  a  performance,  some  patron 
gave  a  ball  in  the  Opera  House;  at  other  times  the  entire  build- 
ing was  rented  for  the  evening  and  an  immense  reception  given. 
Between  performances  punch  was  sold  in  the  foyer  and  here 
young  men  might  escort  young  women  and  the  chaperons.  In 
front  of  the  Opera  House  lounged  aged  Negro  crones  selling 
steaming  bowls  of  gumbo. 

Passionately  fond  of  the  opera,  the  Creoles  viewed  it  with  an 


The  Creoles 

enthusiasm  unknown  today.  Someone  wrote:  'At  the  end  of  a 
performance  the  Creoles  stand  up,  wildly  waving  their  hands 
and  filling  the  air  with  loud  bravos.  Much  has  been  written' in 
prose  and  in  verse  on  the  power  of  music,  but  I  have  never  read 
anything  recorded  so  vividly  and  expressed  so  eloquently  as  in 
the  face  of  a  Creole  girl  when  the  spell  of  one  of  these  French 
operas  is  upon  her.  The  nervous  twitch  of  the  hand  that  grasps 
the  railing  in  front  of  her  box,  the  glow  in  her  eye,  the  height- 
ened color  of  her  cheeks,  the  rapid  change  of  expression,  respon- 
sive to  the  change  from  joy  to  sorrow  in  the  hero,  gladness  to 
lamentation  in  the  music  —  all  show  that  she  is  carried  away 
far  beyond  the  bounds  of  herself  into  a  world  created  within  her 
by  the  power  of  a  Meyerbeer  or  a  Gounod.'  Once  a  Creole 
woman  sold  the  last  piece  of  furniture  in  her  home  to  purchase  a 
ticket  to  the  French  opera. 

Invitations  to  social  affairs  were  brought  by  a  servant,  never 
mailed.  And  on  her  way  to  and  from  a  party  a  girl  would  carry 
her  party  shoes  in  a  little  silk  bag,  wearing  more  practical  street 
shoes  to  brave  the  then  muddy  and  un paved  streets  of  New  Or- 
leans, changing  at  her  destination,  and  again  to  return  home. 

Sunday  was  anything  but  an  unworldly  day,  a  fact  which 
shocked  Protestant  travelers  from  the  North.  Weyth  wrote: 
4  New  Orleans  is  a  dreadful  place  in  the  eyes  of  a  New  England 
man.  They  keep  Sunday  as  we  in  Boston  keep  the  Fourth  of 
July.'  And  until  now  no  'blue'  Sunday  laws  have  ever  been 
successfully  imposed  on  New  Orleans. 

Creoles  attended  Mass  faithfully  each  Sunday  morning,  but 
once  that  duty  was  performed  they  turned  the  rest  of  the  day  into 
one  of  pleasure.  Guests  came  for  breakfast  and  remained  until 
past  midnight.  In  the  afternoon  attendance  at  a  performance  of 
light  opera  was  customary.  In  the  evening,  after  a  huge  dinner, 
the  Creoles  danced  and  flirted  at  numerous  planned  and  im- 
promptu soirees  until  late. 

Sunday  mornings  at  the  French  Market  must  have  given  as 
typical  a  picture  of  Creole  New  Orleans  as  was  possible  to  obtain 
anywhere.  There  was  not  only  the  unique  variety  of  characters, 
but  a  contagious  spirit  of  festivity,  as  if  everyone  were  on  holi- 
day instead  of  merely  shopping  for  the  traditionally  large  Sunday 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

dinner.  There  was  such  chattering  among  the  housewives,  as 
they  met  among  the  stalls  and  stands,  that  even  today  the  ex- 
pression 'It  sounds  like  the  French  Market!'  is  common  in  New 
Orleans  any  time  a  roomful  of  people  seem  all  to  be  talking  at 
oiice. 

At  early  dawn  the  women  would  appear,  huge  baskets  on  their 
arms,  peering  into  the  butchers'  stocks,  smelling,  touching  and 
examining  the  fruit  and  vegetables,  wrangling  over  prices. 
Itinerant  vendors  would  line  the  edges  of  the  market,  offering 
for  sale  parrots,  monkeys,  mockingbirds,  canaries,  alligators, 
mousetraps,  rat  poison,  toothache  cures,  crockery  and  all  sorts 
of  notions  and  knick-knacks.  These  merchants  would  often 
shout  their  wares : 

'Only  a  picayune!' 

The  parrots  would  scream,  the  monkeys  jabber,  the  fowls 
cluck  and  gobble.  Indian  squaws,  wrapped  in  gaudy  blankets, 
some  with  papooses  on  their  backs,  would  offer  baskets,  pottery 
arid  bright  beads.  Half-naked  bucks  would  stalk  here  and  there 
among  the  milling  throng,  some  of  them  staggering  a  little,  their 
eyes  glassy  with  firewater. 

A  huge  woman,  the  numerous  keys  dangling  from  her  belt 
revealing  her  profession  as  keeper  of  a  boarding-house,  attended 
by  a  lank,  cadaverous  black  slave,  might  appear,  driving  hard, 
sharp  bargains,  much  more  concerned  with  price  than  with  qual- 
ity. Graceful  ladies,  wives  and  daughters  of  Creole  gentlemen, 
followed  by  several  servants,  would  shop  with  more  care,  fas- 
tidiously selecting  only  the  best. 

There  would  probably  be  one  of  the  city's  lovely  quadroons  in 
sight,  trailed  by  a  single  servant.  She  would  walk  like  a  queen, 
her  chin  high,  her  jet  brows  disdainful,  her  handsome  silk  gown 
lifted  just  the  proper  inch  or  two  from  the  cobblestones.  She 
would  be  as  proud  as  any  Creole  lady  in  the  city.  And  why  not? 
Her  father  might  be  one  of  its  most  fashionable  residents.  Her 
lover,  to  whom  she  is  absolutely  true,  another.  She  would  be 
the  mistress  of  a  fine  house,  with  slaves,  a  carriage  and  horses  at 
her  disposal.  She  is  well  educated,  can  receive  guests  With  ele- 
gance and  grace,  and  preside  over  the  largest  dinner  with  dignity. 

But  what  caused  most  excitement  at  the  French  Market  during 


The  Creoles 

that  period  was  the  dentist,  who,  perched  on  a  platform,  aided 
by  an  assistant  and  a  brass  band,  pulled  teeth  in  full  view  of  the 
crowd.  A  victim  would  advance  timidly,  but  before  he  changed 
his  mind  the  assistant  would  push  him  into  the  chair  and  give 
a  signal  to  the  band.  Immediately  those  gentlemen  would  strike 
up  a  loud  piece,  completely  drowning  the  yells  of  the  patient  as 
the  tooth  was  yanked  out  —  of  course  without  anesthetic.  This 
was  always  very  amusing  to  everyone  but  the  patient. 

Young  Creole  men,  though  also  bound  by  the  restrictions  of 
caste,  lived  in  a  much  broader  world  than  their  sisters.  Theirs 
was  the  privilege  of  attending  the  famous  quadroon  balls,  to 
dance  and  flirt  with  beautiful  young  women,  so  lightly  touched 
with  cafe  au  lait  that  a  stranger  would  never  have  suspected  their 
mixed  blood,  and  eventually  to  select  one  as  a  mistress. 

In  1790,  New  Orleans,  a  city  of  eight  thousand,  had  fifteen 
hundred  unmarried  women  of  color.  The  fairest  of  these  were 
trained  and  educated  by  their  mothers  and  presented  each  year 
at  the  quadroon  balls. 

These  balls  were  always  conducted  with  great  dignity  and  ele- 
gance, and  attendance  there  risked  no  social  stigma.  The  affairs 
were  gay  and  lavish,  but  never  vulgar,  the  young  women  being 
quite  as  well  trained  and  as  ladylike  as  the  white  belles  of  the 
era.  Many  of  them  were  so  fair  that  they  boasted  blonde  hair 
and  blue  eyes. 

When  a  young  Creole  took  a  fancy  to  a  particular  girl,  he  ap- 
proached her  mother,  gave  satisfactory  proof  of  his  ability  to 
support  her,  and  a  small  home  was  established  in  the  quadroon 
section  of  the  Vieux  Carre.  Many  a  father  willingly  footed  his 
son's  bills  for  the  upkeep  of  his  mistress,  for  the  custom  was 
practically  universal.  The  arrangement  usually  terminated  at 
the  young  man's  marriage,  a  financial  settlement  being  made, 
the  girl  afterward  marrying  another  quadroon  or  going  into  the 
rooming-house  business.  Some,  however,  seem  to  have  contin- 
ued for  life,  a  genuine  attachment  having  arisen  between  the 
Creole  and  his  quadroon  sweetheart.  Children  born  of  these 
unions  were  well  cared  for,  often  splendidly  educated.  The  girls 
often  followed  in  their  mothers'  footsteps. 
Quadroon  men  were  less  fortunate  than  their  sisters.  They 


/  6  o  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

could  not  attend  the  balls,  were  often  scorned  by  the  women  of 
their  own  color.  Usually  they  were  compelled  to  marry  mulatto 
or  Negro  women,  unless  they  married  a  discarded  mistress  in 
later  life. 

The  women,  however,  were  ostracized  by  white  ladies.  They 
were  not  supposed  to  ride  in  carriages  within  the  city  limits,  nor 
to  remain  seated  in  the  presence  of  a  white  woman.  A  white 
woman  could  have  a  quadroon  girl  flogged  like  a  slave  at  any 
time. 

The  balls  were  advertised  in  the  newspapers  of  the  period. 

One  in  the  Daily  Delta,  January  i,  1857,  reads: 

• 

Louisiana  Ball  Room,  corner  of  Esplanade  and  Victory  Streets. 
Grand  Fancy  Dress  Masquerade  Quadroon  Ball  every  THURS- 
DAY EVENING,  and  Fancy  Dress  Ball  EVERY  EVENING. 
• 

Admission  Fifty  Cents.   Doors  open  at  seven  o'clock.   Ball  to 
commence  at  eight. 

Dueling  prevailed  in  New  Orleans  to  an  extent  unknown  even 
in  France.  Creole  society  was  an  aristocratic  and  feudal  organ- 
ization based  upon  slavery,  and  Creoles  lived  like  princes,  de- 
veloping a  tremendous  pride.  Too,  Latin  passions  tropicalized 
under  the  Louisiana  sun  seemed  to  assume  a  violence  surpassing 
anything  in  calmer  France.  Young  men  fought  over  the  slightest 
affront,  for  such  absurd  reasons  as  the  honor  of  the  Mississippi 
River,  more  than  often  for  the  sheer  ferocious  pleasure  of  it. 

At  least  half  of  these  duels  were  caused  by  arguments  at  public 
balls  and  soirees.  To  tread  on  a  Creole's  foot,  to  brush  against 
him,  to  gaze  at  him  with  certain  expressions,  accidentally  to 
carry  off  the  lady  he  had  chosen  to  dance  with,  any  of  these  were 
ample  grounds. 

Everything  was  arranged  very  quietly.  The  young  man  who 
had  suffered  the  crushed  corn  dropped  his  lady  partner  with  her 
chaperon,  had  a  few  minutes'  conversation  with  one  or  two  of 
his  friends  and  slipped  outdoors,  followed  by  a  group  of  men,  all 
wearing  pleasant,  indifferent  smiles.  Just  back  of  the  Saint 
Louis  Cathedral,  in  Saint  Anthony's  Garden,  the  men  would 
gather,  concealed  from  the  streets  by  tall  growths  of  evergreens. 
The  first  blood  drawn  usually  appeased  Creole  wrath.  The  unin- 


The  Creoles  —  161 

jured  participant  would  replace  his  coat  and  return  to  the  dance 
as  if  nothing  had  occurred;  the  other  would  go  home,  and  be 
seen  wearing  a  bandage  for  the  next  few  days. 

These  events  became  so  frequent  that  there  were  often  three 
or  four  a  day  in  New  Orleans.  This  rear  garden  of  the  Cathedral 
and  the  oaks  in  City  Park  were  usually  the  scenes  of  the  encoun- 
ters. Though  swords  were  most  popular,  pistols  were  sometimes 
used,  and  though  honor  was  usually  satisfied  by  the  first  sight 
of  blood,  it  is  certain  that  many  duels  terminated  only  with  the 
death  of  one  or  other  of  the  participants.  Fencing  schools  were 
numerous  and  every  Creole  gentleman  was  skilled  in  the  art. 

And,  according  to  the  New  Orleans  Weekly  Picayune  of  June  6, 
1844,  a^  duels  might  not  have  been  confined  to  the  male  sex. 
This  newspaper  reported : 

Two  girls  of  the  town,  with  their  seconds,  who  were  also 
girls,  were  arrested  by  the  police  when  about  to  fight  a  duel 
with  pistols  and  bowie  knives  near  Bayou  St.  John.  Finding 
they  would  not  be  allowed  to  endanger  each  other's  lives  ac- 
cording to  approved  and  fashionable  rules,  the  belligerents 
had  a  small  fight  '  au  naturel'  —  or  in  other  words,  set  to  and 
tore  each  other's  faces  and  hair  in  dog  and  cat  style.  They  are 

all  in  the  calaboose. 

k" , 

Cockfights  were  popular  among  these  young  men.  Often  as 
many  as  six  birds  would  be  set  to  battling  in  a  single  pit.  Bet- 
ting was  the  most  important  part  of  the  sport,  and  it  is  possible 
that  as  much  money  changed  hands  over  the  scrappy  roosters  as 
is  won  and  lost  on  the  New  Orleans  racetrack  today. 

Baptisms,  name  days,  birthdays,  anniversaries,  holy  days,  all 
were  affairs  of  ceremony  in  the  Creole  household,  each  the  occa- 
sion for  a  reception  or  perhaps  an  elaborate  meal  of  the  sort 
known  as  un  re  fas  de  Lucullus  —  a  feast  of  Lucullus. 

Even  the  daily  dinner  was  an  occasion.  Extra  places  were 
always  set  at  the  table,  for  no  one  knew  how  many  guests  Father 
might  bring  home.  Every  self-respecting  household  owned  din- 
ner service  for  twenty-four.  Some  had  sets  for  a  thousand,  with 
silver  and  glassware  to  match!  Should  the  salons  not  be  large 
enough  for  a  planned  soiree,  the  Creoles  would  convert  their 
courtyards  into  ballrooms.  Walls  were  set  up,  a  canvas  ceiling 


162  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

stretched,  flooring  laid  and  the  whole  of  it  decorated  and  painted 
so  that  it  resembled  a  part  of  the  house  itself.  For  all  social 
affairs  every  member  of  the  family,  every  relative,  no  matter  how 
distant,  must  receive  an  invitation.  To  forget  one  was  a  gross 
insult  and  grounds  for  a  terrible  scandale. 

Should  there  be  a  bachelor  in  the  family,  he  would  take  dinner 
with  a  different  member  every  week.  It  was  customary  for  him 
always  to  bring  the  dessert,  the  favorite,  in  later  years,  being  a 
Sarah  Bernhardt  cake  —  a  cake  with  wine  poured  ovef  it  and 
spread  with  rich  jelly.  Other  contributions  might  be  tfa  de 
fromage  —  hogshead  cheese  —  or  birds'  tongues.  One  Creole  had 
a  noted  delicatessen  proprietor  save  snipes'  tongues  for  him  all 
week,  and  on  Sunday  when  he  went  visiting  he  brought  a  gift 
of  vol-au-vent  —  pattie  shell  —  containing  the  tongues.  Every 
dining  table  of  any  pretensions  at  all  had  always  a  center  piece 
called  a  piece  montie^  which  was  a  mounted  figure  of  nougat, 
moulded  while  still  hot  into  the  form  of  a  church,  a  pyramid  or 
similar  shape.  Many  were  very  elaborate^  often  two  feet  in 
height,  the  leading  confectioners  in  the  city  competing  with  each 
other  in  originality  of  designs  and  decorations.  There  might  be 
a  cafe  brulot,  a  festive  brew  of  coffee,  citrus  peel  and  burning 
brandy. 

A  bachelor  was  a  valuable  addition  to  any  family.  Once  well 
past  middle  age,  he  was  considered  a  real  asset  as  an  escort  for 
young  ladies.  The  girls  always  did  a  lot  of  whispering  about 
why  he  had  never  married,  always  romanticizing  his  past  and 
suspecting  some  tragic  love  affair.  Usually  of  charming  manners 
and  a  good  dancer,  he  played  an  important  role  in  the  Creole 
family. 

Baptisms  took  place  when  a  child  was  about  a  month  old. 
The  farrain  —  godfather  —  and  the  marraine  —  godmother  — 
were  always  relatives,  usually  one  from  each  side  of  the  family. 
Those  chosen  considered  it  a  great  honor,  and  the  child  would 
be  raised  to  be  most  attentive  to  his  godparents.  The  marraine 
would  always  give  the  infant  a  baptismal  gift  of  a  gold  cross  and 
chain,  while  the  farrain  would  invariably  give  either  a  silver 
cup  or  silver  knife  and  fork.  Besides  this  he  must  pay  the  priest 
his  fee,  often  from  twenty  to  one  hundred  dollars,  presented  to 


The  Creoles  —  16$ 

him  in  the  bottom  of  a  cone  of  dragee s  —  sugar-coated  almonds. 
He  also  gave  the  marraine  a  gift  and  an  elaborate  cornet  of 
dragees  and  contributed  something  to  the  huge  repast  that  fol- 
lowed, frequently  the  piece  montee.  The  honor  of  being  chosen 
pprrain  was  considerable  but  expensive. 

Name  days,  the  feast  days  of  the  saints  for  whom  they  were 
named,  were  always  celebrated  among  Creoles.  A  child  born  on 
Saint  Joseph's  Day  or  Saint  Louis'  Day  or  Saint  Theophile's  Day 
was  given  the  name  of  that  saint  and  always  honored  him  as  his 
personal  patron.  The  most  important  of  all  the  feast  days  was 
that  of  Saint  Marie. 

There  were  so  many  Maries  that  girls  were  called  Marie 
Josephine,  Marie  Anne,  Marie  Marguerite,  and  by  such  nick- 
names as  Mariette,  Mamie,  Mamaille,  Minette,  Mimi,  Maille, 
Mane,  Mamoutte  and  many  others. 

There  were  Cousine  Maries  and  Tame  Maries  in  every  family, 
and  no  one  dared  forget  one  of  them  on  Saint  Marie's  Day,  Au- 
gust 15.  A  special  cake  was  always  made  for  the  occasion,  a 
massepain,  much  like  the  modern  sponge  cake,  but  with  a  sugar 
icing  on  which  was  written  in  pink  'Bonne  Fete"  (Happy  Feast 
Day)  —  or  the  words  ' Sainte  Marie.'  To  conceal  the  hole  in  the 
center  of  the  massepain  a  pink  or  red  rose  was  used,  held  in  place 
by  four  outspread  silver  leaves.  Of  all  the  gifts  brought  the  hon- 
ored Marie,  the  cake  was  the  most  important  one. 

Even  the  servants  were  not  forgotten  on  this  day.  All  these 
were  given  bright  tignons,  wide  cotton  aprons,  round  hoop  ear- 
rings, brooches  and  checked  calico  'josies.' 

At  a  party  for  Tante  Marie,  the  children  would  always  gather 
in  a  circle  after  the  gifts  had  been  presented  and  sing  the  special 
'  teasing*  song  of  the  day. 

Oh,  Miss  Mary,  set  your  cap, 
Oh,  Miss  Mary,  set  your  cap, 
Oh,  Miss  Mary,  set  your  cap, 
Miss  Mary  has  a  beau. 

Wow! 

Aie  —  set  your  cap, 
Aic  —  set  your  cap. 


1 6  4  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Aie  —  set  your  cap, 
How  she  loves  her  beau! 

Wow! 

At  the  mention  of  a  beau,  Tante  Marie  would  let  fall  a  tear 
and  her  face  would  turn  crimson.  Was  it  because  of  some  ro- 
mance in  her  past?  Perhaps  the  smile  of  someone  killed  in  a  duel 
rushing  back  into  her  memory.  Like  the  bachelors,  all  old  maids 
were  supposed  to  have  had  secret  and  tragic  romances. 

First  Communion  was  another  excuse  for  a  reception  and  a  big 
meal.  After  the  Communion  Mass  there  was  a  tremendous 
breakfast  and  in  the  afternoon  a  reception  for  the  family  and 
friends.  The  child,  attired  in  snowy  white,  proudly  displayed  a 
large  collection  of  medals  and  holy  pictures.  The  more  medals 
the  greater  the  pride. 

Christmas  was  strictly  a  religious  festival.  Papa  Noel  came 
down  the  chimney  to  fill  stockings,  but  left  only  inexpensive 
gifts  and  trinkets.  There  were  family  dinners,  but  turkey  was 
not  served. 

Midnight  Mass  on  Christmas  Eve  was  an  occasion  for  every- 
one to  attend  church.  To  help  pass  the  hours  before  midnight, 
and  knowing  the  walk  to  the  Cathedral  would  be  long  and  cold, 
hot  eggnog  was  served,  the  preparations  being  long  and  elabo- 
rate. There  must  be  just  the  right  amount  of  whiskey,  exactly 
enough  sweetening,  a  precise  temperature.  Father  performed  the 
ritual  of  the  eggnog.  Midnight  Masses  are  still  the  custom  in 
New  Orleans  on  the  night  before  Christmas. 

New  Year's  Day  was  more  exciting.  Then  were  the  children 
given  their  better  gifts.  This  was  done  very  early  in  the  morning, 
for  on  this  day  every  child  must  visit  his  marrame  and  parrain,  all 
his  tantes,  his  grandparents  and  numerous  other  relatives.  New 
clothes  were  always  made  for  the  day,  and  children  spoke  of 
ma  role  de  jour  de  Van  and  mon  chapeau  de  jour  de  Van  all  through 
the  coming  year.  Before  receiving  his  presents  each  child  pre- 
sented his  parents  with  a  carefully  prepared  compliment  de  jour  de 
r an  in  a  large  pale  pink  envelope.  This  was  a  sheet  of  pink 
paper  trimmed  with  tinsel  and  pictures  of  fat  cherubs  ringing 
silver  bells.  Painstakingly  written  with  a  pencil,  in  French, 
would  be  the  verse: 


The  Creoles  —  16$ 

My  dear  Papa,  my  dear  Mama, 
I  wish  you  a  Happy  and  Prosperous  New  Year. 
•    I  will  be  a  good  little  boy. 

I  will  not  tease  my  little  sister  any  more. 
I  love  you  with  all  my  heart. 

Immediately  after  breakfast  the  visits  would  begin,  first  to 
Mem  ere 's,  for  Grandmother  should  come  first.  There  was  sel- 
dom far  to  go.  All  Creoles  lived  in  the  downtown  section,  the 
faubourg  d'en  bas. 

When  Memere  received  the  children  —  in  the  first  parlor, 
opened  for  this  occasion  —  they  would  recite  some  verses  before 
she  gave  them  the  presents  awaiting  them. 

These  four  little  verses  tell  you  good  morning, 
These  four  little  verses  give  you  my  love, 
These  four  little  verses  give  you  my  gift, 
These  four  little  verses  ask  you  for  mine. 

Then  off  —  to  the  tantesy  the  marraines,  the  parrains  and  other 
relatives,  to  receive  gifts  at  every  stop,  until  slnall  arms  ached 
under  the  weight  of  them. 

In  the  last  half  of  the  nineteenth  century,  reveillons  became 
popular  on  Christmas  Eve  and  New  Year's  Eve.  These  were  all 
night  parties  that  terminated  only  at  dawn.  Modern  counter- 
parts of  these  affairs  are  still  popular  in  New  Orleans  on  these 
nights.  Fireworks  were  always  beloved  on  these  nights  until 
recently  when  banned  by  law. 

The  saison  de  visites  —  season  of  visits  —  opened  with  the 
French  opera  in  November  and  ran  until  Easter.  One  day  each 
week  the  Creole  family  was  'at  home,'  and  friends  were  infor- 
mally entertained.  Liqueurs  and  coffee  were  always  served. 
Everyone  left  cards  when  visiting.  If  the  hostess  were  not  '  at 
home,'  the  cards  were  left  anyway.  Later  in  the  evening  the  men 
made  their  rounds  and  at  nine  o'clock  a  supper  was  served  to  a 
few  intimate  friends.  A  group  in  the  same  neighborhood  would 
always  have  the  same  day,  since  travel  about  the  city  was  con- 
sidered quite  arduous  and  every  Creole  lady  was  the  personifica- 
tion of  frailty  —  no  matter  what  her  weight. 

Teas  were  unknown  in  New  Orleans  until  about  forty  years 


1 66 —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

ago,  when  a  Mrs.  Slocomb  introduced  the  custom.  Returning 
home  from  many  years  abroad,  she  purchased  a  large  house  in 
Esplanade,  decided  to  meet  all  her  old  friends  at  a  tea.  She  forgot 
to  consider  some  might  have  died  during  her  absence,  but  invited 
them  all.  From  then  on  it  was  said,  'Mrs.  Slocomb  was  so 
polite  that  she  even  invited  the  dead  to  her  tea  party.' 

March  fourth  was  'Firemen's  Day,'  and  always  a  gala  event 
on  the  Creole  calendar.  The  firemen  would  parade^  the  streets 
were  decorated,  and  friends  tossed  them  bouquets  of  flowers  in 
which  cigars  were  concealed. 

Saint  Barbe's  Day  was  dedicated  to  the  soldiers.  At  nine  in  the 
morning  they  all  attended  Mass  at  the  Cathedral,  and,  after  the 
parade,  enjoyed  a  feast  at  the  armory. 

The  Mardi  Gras  gradually  became  the  most  important  event 
in  the  year,  as  it  is  today.  Street  masking  and  balls  were  popular 
in  the  earliest  years  of  the  nineteenth  century.  Young  Creole 
blades  would  march  on  foot  through  the  Vieux  Carre  in  costume 
on  Fat  Tuesday,  while  young  ladies  Oil  the  galleries  would 
shower  them  with  flowers,  all  in  imitation  of  the  centuries-old 
festival  in  Europe. 

Creole  girls  were  not,  of  course,  permitted  to  mask4  but  re- 
ceived the  young  men  on  their  galleries,  where  there  was  much 
flirting  and  exchanging  of  compliments,  sparkling  wit  and  de- 
light in  guessing  which  of  their  friends  it  was  disguised  as  a 
Spanish  cavalier,  or  as  Satan,  or  a  fierce  pirate.  Once  in  a  while 
a  playful  tante  defied  convention  and  masked,  but  those  wishing 
to  risk  a  scandale  were  few. 

Carnival  balls  were  much  rarer  than  now,  and  the  invitation 
committee  extremely  strict,  scrupulously  examining  every  name, 
to  make  certain  only  the  crime  de  la  crime  were  admitted.  Money 
was  no  consideration,  family  all.  A  very  few  such  exclusive 
organizations  still  exist. 

Discontinued  during  the  Civil  War,  Mardi  Gras  returned  in 
vigorous  new  birth  and  gradually  grew  to  the  magnificent  spec- 
tacle the  whole  country  comes  to  view  today. 

Of  the  religious  feast  days,  those  of  Saint  John  the  Baptist, 
Saint  Medard,  Saint  Joseph  and  Saint  Martin  were  all  ones  for 
particular  observance.  On  Saint  Blaise's  Day  faithful  Roman 


The  Creoles  —  i6j 

Catholics  went  to  the  Cathedral  to  have  their  throats  blessed. 
They  still  do  so. 

Holy  Week  was  closely  observed  by  the  Creoles.  Holy  Thurs- 
day was  always  spent  in  visiting  various  churches  to  see  the 
repositories.  Children  were  told  that  the  ringing  of  the  church 
bells  in  the  city  Holy  Thursday  meant  that  they  were  flying  to 
Rome  to  see  the  Pope.  On  Holy  Saturday  they  were  told  the 
ringing  of  the  bells  meant  that  they  were  flying  back  to  the 
belfry.. 

On  Good  Friday  Creoles  visited  nine  churches  on  foot  and  in 
silence,  this  bringing  good  fortune.  The  Way  of  the  Cross  Was 
also  performed  on  that  day  at  the  Cathedral,  where  a  Stabat 
Mater  was  sung  by  a  noted  singer. 

There  were  many  quaint  customs  and  superstitions  connected 
with  Holy  Week.  Holy  Thursday  morning  the  housewives,  on 
hearing  the  ringing  of  the  church  bells,  would  take  the  pots 
from  the  stoves  and  place  them  on  the  floor,  making  the  sign  of 
the  cross  as  they  did  so.  For  good  luck  nine  varieties  of  greens 
were  cooked  in  every  home  —  a  concoction  known  as  gumbo 
%hebes.  Eggs  laid  on  that  day  were  believed  never  to  spoil,  only 
to  dry  up. 

All  kinds  of  superstitions  were  rife  among  the  Creoles.  On  the 
first  Friday  of  a  month  a  girl  must  place  her  right  foot  on  the 
footboard  of  the  bed  and  say,  'Today,  the  first  Friday  of  the 
month,  I  place  my  foot  on  the  footboard  and  I  pray  the  great 
Saint  Nicholas  to  make  me  meet  the  one  I  am  to  marry.'  Then 
she  must  jump  into  the  bed  without  touching  the  floor,  lie  on 
the  right  side,  her  hand  over  her  heart,  and  fall  asleep,  without 
talking,  without  laughing,  without  moving. 

If  a  housewife  dropped  a  fork,  a  lady  caller  was  coming;  if  she 
dropped  a  knife,  it  would  be  a  man.  No  one  seems  ever  to  have 
figured  out  what  a  spoon  indicated. 

Burning  the  berries  of  the  juniper  bush  in  the  house  was  sup- 
posed to  purify  the  air  and  kill  all  germs.  It  did  work  havoc 
among  the  mosquitoes. 

The  howling  of  a  dog  and  the  chirping  of  a  cricket  were  both 
thought  to  foretell  the  death  of  someone.  If  you  slept  with  the 
moonlight  in  your  face,  you  went  crazy.  And  should  you  be  so 


1 68-  GumboYa-Ya 

unfortunate  as  to  develop  a  spell  of  hiccoughing,  everyone 
around  was  positive  you  had  stolen  something  and  would  have 
no  relief  until  you  returned  the  article. 

Even  voodooism  found  —  at  least  secret  —  adherents  among 
some  of  the  Creoles.  It  was  whispered  that  many  an  elegant 
gentleman  and  lady  took  part  in  Marie  Laveau's  orgies  along  the 
Bayou  St.  John.  Medical  men  found  it  impossible  to  combat 
the  million  petty  superstitions  in  which  some  of  these  people 
had  implicit  faith.  Roger  Baudier  wrote  in  Catholic  Action  re- 
garding this: 

'  The  list  of  things  that  one  should  not  do  for  fear  of  evoking 
misfortune  was,  among  the  old  Creoles,  as  lengthy  as  the  tresses 
that  hung  from  Tante  Coco's  head.  You  couldn't  turn  around  or 
breathe  without  running  into  some  superstition  and  get  a  gasp 
or  a  little  cry  of  dismay  over  something  dreadful  you  had  done. 
None'  Etienne,  him,  he  had  studied  in  Paris  and  when  he  came 
back,  well,  he  gave  Memere  and  Cousine  Doudouce  and  all  the  rest 
of  the  women  in  the  house  chills  and  goose  pimples,  the  way  he 
flouted  the  most  venerable  superstitions.  Doudouce  said  it  was 
tempting  God,  what  he  was  doing,  but  Etienne  mortified  her 
when  he  told  her  that  she  made  a  mockery  of  God  with  her 
voodoo  gris-gris.  Said  he  thought  himself  le  grand  monsieur  be- 
cause he  had  studied  in  Paris.  Cedonie,  her,  she  was  very  reli- 
gious, and  she  wouldn't  believe  all  that  nonsense,  though  she 
wasn't  any  too  brave  about  certain  things,  and  it  was  always 
a  struggle  to  follow  out  what  they  had  taught  her  at  the  Ursu- 
lines  and  to  suppress  the  little  frissons  —  chills  —  that  she  got 
at  the  sound  of  a  cricket  in  the  house  or  a  dog  howling  at  night. 
However,  she  lost  all  patience  when  Doudouce  jumped  all  over 
her  one  day,  because  she  was  standing  in  front  of  the  mirror  with 
Lala  s  baby  and  allowing  the  child  to  catch  itself  in  the  looking 
glass.  Doudouce  gasped,  "Ma  chere!"  What  had  she  done?  Now 
the  child  would  have  endless  trouble  teething,  since  she  had 
looked  at  herself  in  the  glass!  None  Adeodate  had  the  terrible 
habit  of  keeping  his  hat  on  in  the  house.  That  always  put 
Doudouce  on  pins  and  she  always  asked  "Dada,"  as  they  called 
him  for  short,  for  his  hat,  but  he  always  refused  and  said  he  was 
afraid  her  brother  might  get  away  with  it,  he  was  such  un  pauvrc 


The  Creoles  —  169 

diable  —  a  poor  devil.  Whenever  the  children  were  lying  down, 
Doudouce  would  never  allow  anyone  to  cross  over  them,  without 
making  him  or  her  cross  back,  because  crossing  over  a  young  per- 
son stunted  growth.  She  was  always  fussing  also  at  Cedonie  for 
putting  her  umbrella  on  the  bed,  and  she  almost  fainted  one  day 
when  she  found  Etienne  s  umbrella  open  in  his  room.  That  was 
nothing  to  the  bougonnement  —  fussing  and  grumbling  —  she  had 
with  Bibiy  the  cook,  when  she  found  her  sweeping  the  kitchen 
after  the  Angelus  had  rung  at  the  Cathedral  at  least  an  hour. 
Still,  Doudouce  told  you,  grand  comme  le  bras,  that  she  wasn't  a  bit 
superstitious.' 

Apparently,  all  Creoles  would  tell  you  'grand  comme  le  bras'  — 
as  big  as  your  arm  —  that  they  were  not  superstitious,  but 
hardly  one  of  them  would  ever  have  dared  flout  a  single  belief 
handed  down  from  generation  to  generation  among  them.  And 
there  is  more  respect  paid  many  of  these  beliefs  today  than  might 
be  realized  at  first  thought.  It  is  said  white  ladies  may  still  be 
seen  knocking  at  the  door  of  the  tomb  of  Marie  Laveau,  per- 
forming the  prescribed  ritual  to  receive  the  grant  of  a  wish. 
Love  potions  and  gris-gris  are  still  sold  in  New  Orleans. 

During  one  of  the  fever  epidemics  Creole  gentlemen  fired  a 
cannon  into  the  air  —  to  kill  the  germs.  Perhaps  this  was  indic- 
ative of  Creole  tempestuousness  rather  than  anything  else. 

1  Night  air'  was  the  deadliest  thing  in  all  the  world  and  every 
window  was  shut  tight  at  night.  However,  all  Creole  bedrooms 
were  equipped  with  fireplaces,  through  which  some  degree  of 
ventilation  occurred. 

Fantastic  concoctions  brewed  at  home  were  believed  capable 
of  curing  all  sorts  of  ailments.  Moss,  sassafras,  orange  leaves, 
camomile,  potato  leaves  and  bitter  roots  were  a  few  of  the  in- 
gredients used. 

If  a  child  were  very  ill,  the  Catholic  Creoles  vowed  him  to 
the  Virgin  Mary,  which  meant  the  wearing  of  white-and-blue 
garments  or  else  a  white-and-blue  cord  around  the  waist  for  a 
certain  length  of  time.  Some  children  wore  their  cords  until 
grown. 

Tisanne  de  {euilles  de  lauriers,  a  tea  made  from  laurel  leaves,  was 
used  for  cramps  and  stomachache.  For  fever  the  sufferer  wore  a 


ij  o  —  Gumbo  Ya-Y# 

pair  of  boots  made  of  yellow  paper  covered  with  tallow,  snuff 
and  mustard.  Small  squares  of  yellow  paper  smeared  with  tal- 
low and  stuck  to  the  temples  would  break  up  a  head  cold. 

If  a  person  had  a  cut  or  abrasion,  someone  would  rush  under 
the  house  or  into  some  dark  and  dusty  place  and  procure  some 
cobwebs,  which  would  be  applied  to  the  wound  to  stop  the  flow 
of  blood. 

Sarsaparilla  tea  was  imbibed  each  spring  to  purify  the  blood. 
Crushed  crab  and  crayfish  eyes  were  used  in  the  treatment  of  cer- 
tain diseases.  Water  in  which  rusty  nails  had  been  soaked  over- 
night was  imbibed  for  anemia.  Leeches  were  placed  on  the  nape 
of  the  neck  to  draw  blood.  These  can  still  be  bought  in  New 
Orleans. 

Boils  and  inflammation  were  relieved  by  a  poultice  of  the 
leaves  of  the  wild  potato  plant.  Snake  bite  was  cured  with  bal- 
sam apples  soaked  in  whiskey.  To  loosen  a  chest  cold  Creoles 
swallowed  tallow. 

Bags  containing  camphor  were  worn  suspended  from  a  string 
about  the  neck  during  epidemics.  These  were  used  as  lately  as 
the  influenza  outbreak  following  the  first  World  War. 

Appendicitis  was  known  among  the  Creoles  as  coUque  miserere 
and  was  treated  with  a  poultice  of  flaxseed  or  potato  leaves. 
Copal  moss  was  used  for  pains  following  confinement,  being 
soaked  in  hot  water  with  a  little  whiskey,  and  the  strained 
liquid  drunk  while  very  hot. 

Plantain  leaves  were  applied  to  sores,  banana  leaves  to  the 
forehead  for  headaches.  Emetics  were  the  first  thing  given  any 
sick  person.  Plantain  leaves  were  used  also  to  perfume  house- 
hold linens  and  keep  insects  out. 

Other  things  used  for  cure  and  prevention  of  illness  included 
hair  plant,  button  tree,  fever  bush,  oil  tree,  bite  of  the  devil, 
angel's  balm  and  mouse's  eyes. 

When  gas  mains  filled  with  water  and  were  pumped  out,  this 
water  was,  eagerly  sought  by  the  Creoles,  who  doused  it  on  their 
dogs  and  cats.  It  was  supposed  to  cure  and  prevent  mange. 

Creoles  loved  to  spend  an  evening  walking  on  the  levee,  the 
girls  with  their  ever-present  chaperons,  the  young  men  in  pairs 
and  trios.  Flirtations  were  extremely  mild,  but  none  the  less 


The  Creoles  =-  /// 

exciting.  With  great  tact,  with  many  compliments  extended  the 
chaperon,  a  gallant  might  even  exchange  a  word  or  two  with  a 
belle! 

As  late  as  the  early  1900*5,  just  before  what  is  still  known  as 
'the  exodus  of  the  best  people  from  Esplanade  Avenue/  the 
front  steps  of  many  homes  along  that  thoroughfare  were  scenes 
of  no  little  calling,  courting  and  romancing.  On  warm  spring 
and  summer  evenings  the  young  Creole  girls  Would  sit  Out  on 
these  steps  to  receive  young  blades  who  sauntered  in  groups  from 
one  house  to  another.  The  steps  here  were  often  built  in  a  re- 
cess, assuring  a  quasi-privacy  and  allowing  greater  than  usual 
seating  capacity.  Here  'sweet  crackers,'  Grenadine,  lemonade 
and  biere  Creole  would  be  served  the  callers,  and  delightful  €hats 
and  very  mild  flirtations  were  possible. 

The  young  men  took  great  care  to  be  impartial  in  their  visits, 
stopping  at  one  house  one  evening  and  another  the  next.  Should 
any  youth  become  a  very  assiduous  visitor  he  immediately  be- 
came a  source  of  interesting  speculation  throughout  the  whole 
neighborhood.  Mothers  boasted  of  the  calls  of  a  suitor  on  their 
daughter  and  discussed  frankly  his  morals,  manners,  breeding, 
background  and  financial  condition.  When  he  started  making 
engagements  for  the  balls  or  cotillions,  it  was  considered  that 
romance  had  bloomed,  and  woe  betide  the  insincere  young  man 
not  thoroughly  aware  of  the  delicate  implications  attached  to 
showing  a  Creole  girl  such  attention  without  the  proper  and 
expected  intention. 

To  this  day  Orleanians  are  fond  of  sitting  out  of  doors  on  sum- 
mer evenings.  There  are  probably  few  other  cities  in  America 
where  people  will  place  rocking  chairs  out  on  the  sidewalk  be- 
fore their  homes,  sit  rocking  and  fanning,  perhaps  drinking 
lemonade  or  beer,  forcing  pedestrians  to  walk  around  them, 
while  they  chat  and  gossip,  including  whispered  remarks  about 
everyone  passing. 

Creoles  were  fond  of  quiet  evenings  at  home.  There  was  al- 
ways music  offered  by  some  members  of  la  famille,  or  perhaps 
someone  would  read  aloud,  while  the  ladies  would  busy  them- 
selves with  sewing  and  embroidering. 

Many  exquisite  arts,   some  now  lost,   were  known  to  the 


1 72  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Creole  woman.  The  making  of  macreme  was  one  at  which  all 
girls  were  skilled.  This  was  a  type  of  weaving  in  which  heavy 
string  was  woven  into  lace  curtains  and  portieres.  Flower- 
making  was  popular.  These  were  made  of  wax,  tinted  appro- 
priate colors  and  put  under  bell  glass  to  decorate  the  salons. 

Cooking  was  the  highest  of  the  Creole  home  arts.  Though 
kitchen  equipment  was  meager,  the  Creole  woman  and  her 
servants  created  one  of  the  finest  schools  of  epicureanism  in  the 
world.  Their  recipes  were  a  blend  of  French  and  Spanish  dishes, 
with  typical  Negro  skill  at  making  a  fine  dish  out  of  a  little 
added. 

For  years  all  cooking  was  done  in  a  wide,  open  fireplace,  or  on 
a  clay  furnace.  An  iron  pot  —  often  handed  down  from  mother 
to  daughter  —  was  highly  prized  by  Creole  women.  Before  a 
new  one  could  be  used  it  must  be  ' broken  in.'  First  the  pot  was 
washed  thoroughly,  then  red  brick-dust  rubbed  in.  After  an- 
other washing,  the  inside  was  smeared  thickly  with  pork  fat 
and  the  pot  placed  on  the  fire  to  'season.'  Then  the  pot  was 
ready  for  the  cooking  of  the  red  beans  and  the  black-eyed  peas. 
These  were  always  cooked  with  a  thick  slice  of  ham  or  salt  pork. 

Even  at  family  dinners  tables  literally  groaned  under  the 
weight  of  the  spread  of  food.  At  every  large  meal  fish,  fowl 
and  flesh  were  all  served.  Occupying  the  center  of  the  table 
might  be  a  cochon  de  lait  —  a  milk-fed  suckling  pig  —  roasted  a 
golden  brown.  There  would  be  a  large  vol-au-vent  —  a  baked 
shell  filled  with  delicious  oyster  stew,  a  tremendous  roast  of 
beef  and  a  turtle  shell  stuffed  with  turtle  meat  and  richly  sea- 
soned. Sea  food  was  often  present,  the  meal  frequently  starting 
with  a  crab  gumbo.  Wines  were  always  served.  Some  families 
drank  it  at  all  three  meals,  the  children  receiving  theirs  diluted 
with  water.  Root  beer,  induced  to  ferment  by  the  addition  of 
rice,  corn  and  sugar,  was  also  popular.  Btere  douce^  unknown 
now,  was  made  of  pineapple  peelings,  brown  sugar,  cloves  and 
rice.  Coffee  was  always  ground,  roasted  and  entirely  prepared  at 
home.  Chicory  was  added,  to  the  degree  to  please  each  family's 
taste.  Pepper  was  also  bought  whole  and  ground  at  home. 

Elderly  Creole  ladies  were  fond  of  gathering  at  each  other's 
houses  to  spend  the  day.  All  the  gossip  would  be  exchanged, 


The  Creoles 

family  histories  combed  through,  the  actions  of  this  person  or 
that  discussed.  Greatest  pleasure  was  derived  from  guessing  who 
would  be  heir  to  a  certain  fortune,  who  married  who  and  why, 
and  what  family,  though  they  of  course  denied  it,  was  undoubt- 
edly touched  with  cafe  au  lait.  Dreading  exposure  to  the  '  night 
air,'  the  ladies  would  scurry  home  just  before  dusk,  well  sup- 
plied with  gossip  for  a  long  time  to  come.  Some  of  them  were 
living  encyclopedias  of  genealogy  and  could,  on  occasion,  render 
family  histories  for  generations,  with  a  thorough  knowledge  of 
both  the  lateral  and  horizontal  branches  of  the  family  trees. 
Such  a  gathering  of  women  was  known,  scornfully,  as  a  gumbo 
ya-ya. 

Nicknames  were  as  popular  among  Creoles  as  they  were  among 
their  poorer  cousmes,  the  Cajuns.  Roger  Baudier  says  of  this  in 
Catholic  Action : 

One  still  finds  among  the  descendants  of  the  Creoles  the 
familiar  petits  noms  which  were  used  so  generally  in  former  dec- 
ades, in  conversation  in  the  family  and  among  intimates. 
The  custom  of  giving  these  short,  phonetic  names  based  on  a 
person's  baptismal  name,  however,  has  all  but  passed  away, 
but  Creoles  still  recall  grandfathers,  grandmothers,  aunts, 
uncles  and  cousins  by  these  short  names,  in  many  cases  being 
unable  to  recall  them  by  any  other  designation.  Tante  Fefe  and 
Cousine  Titine  are  just  that  —  they  are  never  known  by  any 
other  names.  It  is  difficult  to  explain  some  of  these  cognomens, 
as  they  were  derived  not  only  from  some  syllable  of  a  name, 
but  also  from  some  characteristic,  peculiarity,  pet  expression 
or  some  such  source.  Bebe,  Boy,  Mimi,  and  Bouboutsc,  Cherie, 
Tounoute,  Nounouse,  Doudouce  and  Piton  are  examples  of  short 
names  that  almost  defy  tracing  back. 

Petits  noms  like  Loulou  might  come  from  Louis  and  Ludovic.  A 
girl  named  Clementine  or  Armentine  would  be  called  Titine  or 
Tine,  Julo  was  substituted  for  Jules,  Zebe  for  Eusebe  or  Zebulon, 
Zime  for  the  queer  name  of  Onesime.  Girls  named  Eliza  and 
Elizabeth  would  each  answer  to  the  appellation  of  Za%a;  Adele 
and  Adelaide  either  to  Dedlle  or  Dedee. 

Every  family  included  these  nicknames,  often,  because  of  the 
size  of  Creole  families,  several  members  with  the  same  one. 


ij4  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

There  were  scores  of  others,  many  of  them  fantastic  and  impos- 
sible to  trace  to  any  derivation. 

Lagniappe  was  always  given  customers  in  the  stores  during  the 
Creole  era,  giving  special  pleasure  to  children  and  servants.  No 
matter  how  small  the  purchase,  the  merchant  always  added  a 
bit  of  candy,  a  cake  or  some  other  small  item  as  lagniappe,  mean- 
ing something  extra,  something  for  nothing. 

Webster  claims  that  lagniappe  is  derived  from  a  Spanish  word, 
but  there  is  no  country  where  Spanish  is  spoken  that  uses  such 
a  term.  M.  Bussiere  Rouen,  a  noted  French  scholar,  advanced 
the  theory  that  four  or  five  centuries  ago,  in  Normandy  and  in 
Brittany,  grain  like  oats,  wheat  and  barley,  when  sold,  was 
spread  on  a  woven  cloth  known  in  French  as  a  nappe.  When  the 
seller  delivered  or  emptied  the  contents  of  the  cloth  into  the 
buyer's  receptacle,  there  were  always  quite  a  few  grains  clinging 
to  the  cloth.  To  compensate  the  buyer,  the  seller  would  take 
one  or  two  handfuls  from  his  stock  and  give  it  to  the  buyer,  say- 
ing this  was  for  la  nappe  (the  cloth).  When  the  Bretons  and 
Normans  settled  in  Canada  and  then  were  driven  out  by  the 
English,  eventually  to  find  homes  in  Louisiana  and  become 
known  as  Acadians,  they  kept  the  custom  of  giving  a  little 
something  for  nothing  when  purchases  were  made,  saying, 
'Pour  la  gnaippi  instead  of  'Pour  la  nappe,'  and  from  them  the 
curious  custom  was  passed  on  to  the  Creoles  of  New  Orleans. 

Despite  lack  of  ventilation,  meal-time  gorging  and  the  most 
curious  remedies  conceivable  when  ill,  Creoles  seem  often  to  have 
lived  to  incredible  ages.  They  said  of  themselves,  'Creoles  pas 
mourn,  li  desseche  -  -  'Creoles  don't  die,  they  dry  up.' 

But  on  the  other  hand,  death  seems  to  have  always  been  in 
evidence  by  the  amount  of  mourning  worn.  Regarding  this,  it 
was  said,  Si  un  chat  mourrait  dans  la  famille>  tout  le  monde  portrait  de 
deuil  —  If  a  cat  should  die  in  the  family,  everyone  would  be  in 
mourning.  Every  tante  and  cousine  was  an  excuse  for  la  famille  to 
drape  themselves  in  black. 

M.  Raoul  Bonnot  was  the  popular  Croque-Mort  —  undertaker 
—  of  the  Creoles  for  years.  M.  Bonnot  was  quite  a  figure  in  the 
Vieux  Carre,  always  appearing  in  formal  gray  striped  trousers, 
Prince  Albert,  high-heeled  shoes  and  tall  silk  hat.  His  toupee 


The  Creoles 

was  center-parted  and  combed  in  bangs  over  his  forehead.  His 
expression  was  always  so  gloomy  that  the  Creoles  said  of  him, 
sympathetically,  '  //  a  une  figure  de  cmonsiance. '  There  must,  how- 
ever, have  been  a  certain  amount  of  secret  frivolity  under 
M.  Bonnet's  glum  exterior.  It  was  asserted  by  those  who  knew 
that  he  wore  ribbons  on  his  underwear. 

When  a  death  occurred,  each  post  in  the  Creole  section  was 
adorned  with  a  black-bordered  poster,  informing  of  who  had 
died,  the  time  and  place  of  the  funeral.  Invitations  to  the  events 
were  issued  as  for  social  functions.  All  services  were  from  the 
home. 

Until  the  Civil  War  Creole  ladies  never  attended  funerals,  but 
always  paid  a  visit  of  condolence  within  nine  days  of  the  death. 
But  during  the  War  women  were  compelled  to  take  charge  of 
these  affairs.  The  first  funeral  attended  by  women  in  New  Or- 
leans was  that  of  Mrs.  P.  G.  T.  Beauregard,  first  wife  of  General 
Beauregard.  The  ladies  marched  in  rows  which  extended  the 
whole  width  of  Esplanade  Avenue. 

The  Civil  War  marked  the  beginning  of  the  end  for  this  Creole 
world.  Very  slowly  the  structure  of  their  culture  crumbled. 

From  the  beginning  of  the  coming  of  the  Americans  the  Cre- 
oles were  doomed.  These  Anglo-Saxons  were  too  aggressive, 
too  practical.  Everywhere  they  rose  to  ascendancy,  in  politics, 
in  business  and  in  trade.  Every  year  the  leading  places  in  com- 
merce, banking,  planting  and  the  professions  were  taken  over  by 
the  newcomers.  Unlike  the  Creoles,  they  were  not  ashamed  to 
soil  their  hands.  They  did  not  have  the  Creole's  secret  contempt 
for  hard  work.  They  almost  made  a  fetish  of  it. 

Even  the  French  language  began  to  lose  popularity.  For  a 
long  time  generations  were  bilingual,  speaking  one  tongue  at 
home,  another  outside.  In  the  new  public  schools  Creole  chil- 
dren were  Americanized,  eventually  refused  even  to  speak  French 
because  the  others  taunted  them  with  the  appellation  of  'Kis- 
kee-dee!'  when  they  did  so. 

Through  the  years  Creole  jealousy  of  the  Americans  continued 
to  be  bitter.  They  held  themselves  aloof,  refusing  to  mix  with 
the  strangers.  But  as  the  American  city  grew  larger,  swiftly 
passed  the  old  town  in  size,  it  became  very  evident  that  these 


ij6-  GumboYa-Ya 

'foreigners'  were  faring  quite  well  without  their  aid.  They  saw 
it  was  a  choice  between  acquiescence  or  complete  commercial 
domination.  In  one  matter,  however,  the  Creoles  remained 
the  masters  for  many  years;  they  set  the  standard  for  and  ex- 
ercised control  over  everything  related  to  social  life. 

As  long  ago  as  1892.  a  certain  Creole  gentleman,  famous  for  his 
impeccable  attire,  his  erect  carriage,  his  monocle,  his  evening 
strolls  along  Esplanade  Avenue,  bemoaned  the  passing  of  the 
old  ways  of  life.  Each  sunset  he  would  appear  on  the  Esplanade, 
bowing  to  ladies  of  his  acquaintance  with  a  lordly  flourish,  tip- 
ping his  top  hat  to  men.  He  constantly  regaled  friends  with  nos- 
talgic tales  of  the  bon  vieux  temps,  as  compared  to  what  he  con- 
sidered the  vulgar  and  parvenu  customs  and  manners  of  this  later 
period.  He  told  of  days  when  a  gentleman  never  crossed  his  legs 
in  a  drawing-room;  when  a  lady  had  no  legs  at  all,  but  floated 
mysteriously  on  the  hems  of  her  skirts,  wore  steel  corsets  and  a 
daring  decollete;  when  a  gentleman  did  not  ask  a  lady's  permis- 
sion to  smoke  —  no  lady  could  refuse,  and  the  odor  of  tobacco 
was  obnoxious  to  all  females !  —  and  would  have  died  before  he 
did  so  in  her  presence;  when  cocktails  were  unknown;  when  gen- 
tlemen supported  their  dancing  partners  with  the  lightest  touch 
of  the  back  of  their  white-gloved  hands  at  their  waists;  when  to 
appear  at  a  social  affair  in  an  intoxicated  condition  meant  cer- 
tain and  permanent  ostracism,  and  when  the  telling  of  a  risque 
joke  in  the  presence  of  a  woman  was  equivalent  to  inviting  one's 
self  to  a  duel.  He  particularly  deplored  the  passing  of  dueling, 
which  custom,  he  averred  firmly,  '  held  down  murders,  preserved 
good  manners,  upheld  the  sanctity  of  woman  and  safeguarded  the 
sacredness  of  the  home!' 

But  little  by  little  the  majority  of  the  Creoles  became  poorer. 
Their  fine  homes  had  to  go.  Family  records  were  lost  or  de- 
stroyed, heirlooms,  precious  and  treasured  for  generations,  were 
sold  as  desperation  drove  these  gentle  people,  scarcely  capable  of 
earning  their  livelihoods,  to  antique  dealers  and  the  Americans. 
The  past  began  to  be  a  thin  memory  in  the  minds  of  very  old 
people. 

Striving  to  maintain  their  independent  culture,  the  Creoles 
organized  a  Creole  Association  as  late  as  1886.  Bitterly  attacked 


The  Creoles  —  177 

by  outsiders  as  an  exclusive  organization,  Charles  A.  Villere, 
himself  of  a  distinguished  Creole  family,  vigorously  denied  this, 
saying  their  aim  was  to  aid  the  state  as  a  whole,  to  assist  in  the 
spread  of  education  and  the  growth  of  the  culture  of  all  its 
peoples.  In  his  speech  at  the  first  meeting  of  the  Association  he 
said,  in  part,  'We  are  battling  for  our  rights;  we  are  scoffed  at, 
ridiculed,  blackened,  tortured,  deformed,  caricatured. . . .  This 
is  our  soil/ 

But  the  life  of  the  Creole  Association  was  short.  Internal  dif- 
ferences ensued,  and  it  quickly  passed  out  of  existence. 

Most  of  the  old  ways  are  gone  now,  though  tangible  evidences 
of  the  splendid  past  are  not  difficult  to  find.  There  are  the  old 
houses  in  the  Vieux  Carre,  with  balconies  of  wrought  iron  like 
fine  lace  and  winding  stairs  and  tinkling  crystal  chandeliers  and 
dreamy  patios.  There  still  remains  the  Saint  Louis  Cathedral 
where  Creoles  knelt  in  prayer,  with  its  rear  garden  where  rapiers 
flashed  in  moonlight  and  in  sunlight,  until  the  flow  of  Creole 
blood  appeased  the  tempestuous  heat  of  Creole  anger.  And  the 
convent  in  Orleans  Street,  where  the  warm  laughter  and  gay 
music  of  the  past  has  been  displaced  by  the  mystic  silence  of  the 
religieuse.  These  things  remain. 

There  are  names,  some  still  of  great  social  prestige,  others  long 
buried  under  poverty,  their  aristocratic  origins  almost  forgotten 
by  their  bearers.  There  are  words  like  gumbo  and  banquette,  still 
common  on  Orleanians'  tongues.  There  are  Creole  cabbages, 
Creole  lilies  and  Creole  horses.  And  a  thousand  other  little 
things,  little  inbred  habits,  superstitions,  proverbs,  all .  with 
derivations  springing  from  that  past  that  belonged  to  the 
Creoles. 

In  the  show  windows  of  a  Royal  Street  antique  dealer  may  rest 
a  silken  fan,  yellowed  now,  frayed  a  bit,  but  once  it  accentuated 
the  coquetry  of  a  dark-eyed  flirt;  bits  of  bric-a-brac,  stalwart 
shepherds  and  plump  dairy  maids  with  dirty  china  faces,  old 
jewelry  created  to  adorn  Creole  beauty,  music  boxes  that  still 
respond  to  your  touch  to  play  half-forgotten  tunes,  snuff  boxes 
of  silver  and  gold  that  once  flattered  the  vanity  of  gallants.  In- 
side the  shop  may  be  immense  mirrors  with  fat  cupids  chasing 
each  other  about  the  gilded  frames,  a  huge  bed  of  solid  mahogany 


with  four  massive  posts  and  a  ciel-dc-lit  —  perhaps  the  creation 
of  Monsieur  Dufau  before  his  ill-fated  rum  party?  —  of  pale  blue 
silk,  stained  and  faded  now,  but  once  the  bridal  canopy  of  some 
trembling  Creole  bride. 

It  is  even  possible  to  fond  a  gentle  lady  or  two  of  great  age, 
who  doesn't  speak  English  and  rarely  ever  journeys  to  Canal 
Street,  less  than  a  dozen  city  blocks  away,  who  wears  black 
alpaca  dresses  to  the  tips  of  her  shiny  patent  leather  shoes,  a 
cameo  brooch  at  her  throat  and  her  thin  white  hair  in  a  forgotten 
fashion. 

To  this  patrician  race  New  Orleans  owes  a  debt  of  immeas,ur- 
able  proportions;  the  Mardi  Gras,  the  world-famous  cuisine,  the 
gaiety,  the  whole  intricate  fabric  of  the  charm  that  distinguishes 
the  city  from  any  other  in  America. 


Chapter  9 


The  Cajuns 


I  am  a  true  man,  me.   I  got  credit  at  Fisher's  Store;  I  got  a  share  in 
my  boat;  and  I  make  fourteen  children  for  my  wife! 

Overheard  from  Cajuns'  conversation 

'IT  IS  LIKE  THIS' -- THEOPHILE  POLITE  NARROWS 
dark  eyes  that  glitter  hotly  in  the  Louisiana  sun  —  'we  Cajun 
are  damn  fool,  us.  Most  of  the  time  we  are  poor,  then  we  catch 
lots  of  muskrat,  sell  the  skin,  and  we  are  rich.  Some  Cajun  make 
plenty  money  now,  stay  rich,  but  most  time  is  not  like  that,  no. 
We  spend  all  our  money  quick.  Boom!  Like  the  big  storm  she 
hit  the  little  boat,  everything  is  gone  from  us.  My  family  live 
always  since  two  hundred  years  on  this  bayou,  and  always  we  is 
poor.' 

Theophile's  bronzed  forehead  wrinkled  angrily.  'One  time  a 
mans  comes  and  wants  me  to  work  for  him,  that  fool !  Paillasse! 
That  is  insult  for  me,  hein?  We  Cajun  stand  always  on  our  own 
two  feets.  Any  mans  works  for  'nother  mans  he  is  low.  Me,  I  do 
all  right.  I  trap  them  big  rats.  I  fish  for  the  shrimps  and  the  oys- 
ters. Marie,  she  has  eleven  childrens,  all  living,  nine  boys.  We 
are  still  amoureux  comme  deux  colombes,  us.  If  a  mans  got  him 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

shrimps  and  oysters  for  his  gumbo,  and  his  wife  and  him  still  is 
loving  each  other  like  two  little  sweetheart  doves,  what  more 
he  want  I  ask  you,  he  in?' 

Marie  waddles  out  of  the  small  house,  takes  a  seat  on  a  log 
close  to  where  her  husband  stoops  over  his  crab  net.  She  sighs. 
She  is  quite  fat,  especially  her  stomach,  which  stretches  her 
white  cotton  dress  until  the  material  seems  about  to  split.  It  is 
evident  the  Polite  children  will  soon  number  an  even  dozen. 
But  her  features  are  good,  the  nose  slightly  arched,  but  thin,  the 
lips,  cheekbones  and  jawline  strongly  modeled.  Her  short  hair, 
black  as  ink,  frames  a  face  strangely  patrician  for  her  peasant's 
body.  Many  Cajun  women  are  like  that.  Her  hands  are  small, 
her  naked  feet,  the  toes  digging  into  the  dust,  delicately  shaped. 

'She  is  worried  for  Ovide,'  Theophile  explains  her  silence. 
'He  is  the  oldest  boy  we  have  from  us.  All  the  childrens  we 
name  with  O,  'cause  Polite  she  is  named  with  P,  and  O  she  comes 
from  before  P,  hein?  We  call  them  Ovide,  Oristes,  Olive,  Onesia, 
Otheo,  Odalia,  Octave,  Olite,  Oristide,  Odelee  and  Odeson.'  He 
flipped  a  black-nailed  thumb  at  Marie's  middle.  'He  is  gon'  be 
called  by  Odeo  or  Odea,  if  she's  boy  or  girl.' 

He  rose,  brushed  his  hands  on  his  pants.  '  Me,  I  forget  myself. 
Wait,  I  get  you  some  coffee.' 

Marie  had  taken  some  peach  seeds  out  of  a  paper  bag  and  was 
pounding  them  to  bits  on  a  rock,  using  another  rock  as  a  ham- 
mer. They  were  to  'settle  the  water.'  If  bayou  water  must  be 
used  for  drinking,  Cajuns  put  crushed  peach  seeds  on  the  bottom 
of  a  pail  of  it  and  all  dirt  is  drawn  to  the  bottom,  leaving  the  top 
clean  and  purified. 

'Ovide  gives  us  help,  him.'  Marie  looked  up,  her  dark  eyes 
distressed.  '  He  make  two,  three  dollar  for  his  crabs.  Sometime 
he  get  a  hot  head  and  drink  up  all  his  money,  but  most  time  he 
give  it  all  to  me.  He  use  good  way  to  catch  them  crab.  Is  real 
Cajun  way  to  do  them,  yes.  He  go  out  on  bayou  with  big  line 
what  has  little  lines  tied  on  it,  maybe  every  two  feets.  He  tie 
one  end  of  that  big  line  to  a  tree,  then  he  row  his  pirogue  down 
the  bayou  and  tie  up  other  end  to  'nother  tree,  good.  All  the 
little  lines  is  hanging  down  and  the  crabs  they  bite  them.  Then 
my  Ovide  he  pull  big  line  up  from  water  and  he  catch  them. 


The  Cajuns  —  181 

That  is  fine  way,  hein?  He's  got  good  brains  in  his  head.  But 
now  he  catched  himself  the  woman  sickness  and  is  gone  to  the 
city  to  get  cured.' 

She  sighed,  rolling  her  fine  eyes  around,  and  went  on  to  an- 
other of  her  troubles.  'My  daughter,  she  is  Onesia,  is  married 
twice  as  old  as  herself  to  a  man.  I  don't  like  that,  no.  He  is 
named  Ulysse  Boudreaux,  is  thirty-two  years  old.  Onesia,  she  is 
sixteen.  She  is  one  fine  cook.  Can  make  better  gumbo  than  me, 
her.' 

She  raised  her  brows  proudly.  '  When  Theophile  and  me  get 
ourselves  married  to  each  other,  he  is  eighteen  and  me,  I  am 
fifteen.  That  is  right,  hein?  This  Ulysse  Boudreaux  is  almost 
old  mans  as  me;  I  am  thirty-five.  All  the  time  I  tell  him  he  is 
better  for  me,  if  there  is  no  Theophile,  Holy  Mother,  may  such  a 
thing  never  be!,  than  for  Onesia.  But  when  I  ask  the  priest  at 
time  he  marry  them,  the  priest  he  say  hokay,  so  I  guess  is  hokay . 
That  Ulysse  have  four  children  and  two  twins  from  his  first  wife 
-  was  Celeste  Thibodeaux  before  they  was  married  with  each 
other.  She  died  two  years  ago  like  from  last  Christmas.  Ulysse 
is  fine  trapper,  though.' 

Marie's  Cajun  humor  came  to  the  fore  at  last.  She  winked  one 
limpid  eye,  revealed  two  flashy  gold  teeth  in  a  wide  smile. 

'I  just  don't  believe  it's  no  fun  being  married  twice  as  old  as 
yourself  to  a  mans,'  she  said. 

These  are  Acadians  of  today,  but  they  might  be  Longfellow's 
famed  lovers,  Evangeline  and  her  Gabriel.  There  has  been  little 
change  these  two  centuries.  If  the  course  of  true  love  had  run 
smoothly,  that  tragic  pair  might  have  lived  out  their  lives  to- 
gether much  as  Theophile  and  Marie  Polite. 

There  are  contemporary  counterparts  of  the  expulsion  of  these 
people  from  Nova  Scotia  by  the  British.  Refugees  still  flee  from 
intolerance,  are  still  banished  from  their  homelands  because  it  is 
expedient  to  their  rulers  that  they  be  so  treated.  But  there  is  no 
recent  case  more  tragic  than  the  brutal  uprooting  of  these  Aca- 
dians, none  more  filled  with  misery  than  the  long  wanderings  of 
these  homeless  fifty  thousand.  Today  travel  is  swift.  Liners  can 
carry  the  expatriated  to  new  continents  in  a  few  days.  The  Aca- 
dians straggled  southward,  on  foot,  in  small  boats,  for  three 
decades. 


182  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Yet  here  in  what  Longfellow  calls  'the  Eden  of  Louisiana,' 
along  the  picturesque,  winding  bayous,  they  found  a  new  home. 
And  here  they  remain,  four  hundred  thousand  of  them,  for  they 
are  extremely  prolific  and  twenty  children  in  a  single  family  is 
not  unusual.  One  old  lady  counted  eight  hundred  lineal  descend- 
ants, all  blood  relatives. 

Many  still  live  in  rude  shacks,  weave  their  own  cloth,  con- 
tinue to  cling  to  a  chronic  aversion  to  wearing  shoes.  Until 
recently  many  of  them  had  never  journeyed  twenty  miles  from 
their  homes,  many  of  the  women  had  never  traveled  five.  Today 
some  have  automobiles  of  a  sort. 

But  automobiles  have  not  entirely  supplanted  the  buggy  in 
southwestern  Louisiana.  Many  of  these  antique  vehicles  are  still 
in  use,  and  they  are  not  all  of  ancient  vintage,  either.  Many  are 
brand  new  and  glossy  black.  For  buggies  are  still  manufactured 
for  these  bayou  folk,  and  more  are  in  use  in  Louisiana  than  in  any 
other  locality  in  the  United  States  of  today.  Every  Sunday 
morning  it  is  possible  to  see  many  of  them  filled  with  families,  all 
dressed  up  in  starched  white  apparel,  bare  feet  scrubbed  clean, 
on  the  way  to  Mass. 

These  bayou  Cajuns  are  usually  poor,  though  some  are  making 
money  today.  As  fishermen  they  are  eminently  successful;  the 
heritage  of  their  Norman  and  Breton  ancestry  is  not  wasted. 
The  great  shrimping,  crabbing  and  oyster-fishing  industries  of 
Louisiana  are  entirely  in  their  hands.  They  are  the  world's  finest 
trappers. 

Their  language,  entirely  spoken  —  few  can  read  or  write  in 
French  —  has  been  held  in  contempt  by  many  people  as  a  crude 
patois,  though  some  authorities  insist  it  is  pure  seventeenth- 
century  French.  Until  the  first  World  War  relatively  few  spoke 
English  at  all.  And  those  who  speak  it  today  have  a  humorous, 
if  expressive,  jargon  of  their  own.  In  many  ways  this  is  not 
really  a  dialect,  but  a  literal  translation  from  French,  such  as, 
'He  live  in  that  house  which  is  white,  him.'  The  last  pronoun 
being  repeated  to  impress  you  with  who  it  is  living  in  'that 
house  which  is  white.'  Sentences  frequently  terminate  with  an 
interrogative  'Yes?'  or  'No?'  or  'Hein?'  as  if  desiring  your  assur- 
ance that  the  speaker  is  correct  in  his  opinion  and  that  you  agree. 


A  Cajun  oysterman  of  Barataria  with  his  oyster  tongs 
Courtesy  of  Jefferson  Parish  Review 


•  lift 


A  Cajun  fisherman's  family  in  their  bayou  home 
Courtesy  of  Lee,  Farm  Security  Administration 


Cajun  girls  of  the  Bayou  Country 
Courtesy  of  Shahn,  Farm  Security  Administration 


\ 


\ 


$%&& 


An  old  Cajun  woman  hangs  garlic  from  the  rafters 
Courtesy  of  Lee,  Farm  Security  Administration 


Shrimp  Fleet  waiting  to  be  blessed,  Little  Bayou  Caillou 


The  Archbishop  on  the  way  to  bless  the  Shrimp  Fleet 
Courtesy  of  New  Orleans  Times-Picayune    , 


The  Cajuns  —  18  $ 

Pronouns  are  scattered  here  and  there,  liberally.  Usually  in  the 
wrong  places.  The  Cajun's  hands,  shoulders  and  eyes,  which  are 
all  put  into  play  when  he  launches  into  a  conversation,  are  really 
almost  as  much  organs  of  speech  as  his  tongue.  And  when  he 
cannot  remember  an  English  word  or  phrase  he  shoves  in  a 
French  one,  lapses  right  back  into  English  and  goes  on  from 
there,  always  speaking  rapidly,  betraying  his  impatient  and 
nervous  nature. 

Listen  to  Placide  discouraging  Papite's  ambition  to  travel  to 
Chicago.  Papite  had  heard  about  this  Chicago  somewhere,  and 
though  he  knew  nothing  of  geography,  had  probably  never  seen 
a  map,  his  desire  to  view  the  wonders  of  that  metropolis  was  the 
constant  topic  of  his  conversation.  Placide,  tiring  of  this  and 
really  afraid  he  might  lose  his  good  friend  Papite,  put  it  this 
way. 

'Papite,  for  why  hell  you  want  to  go  to  She-cow-go,  you? 
Look  at  the  sun.  See  how  she  shine,  on  the  bayou,  he  in?  If  you 
was  in  She-cow-go  you  would  not  see  sun  like  those,  no.  In  She- 
cow-go  when  the  sun  come  up,  the  smoke  from  Pittsburgh  he 
pass  all  over  She-cow-go  and  keep  the  sun  from  shining  on  all 
those  poor  peoples.  Now,  Papite,  you  don't  want  to  go  no  place 
where  there  ain't  no  sun,  no?' 

Education  is  seeping  into  even  the  most  remote  bayou  settle- 
ments now,  and  Cajun  children  attend  school  —  at  least  for  a 
few  years.  But  for  the  most  part  this  alters  life  but  little.  Cajun 
boys  learn  to  fish  and  hunt  and  trap  almost  from  infancy;  it  is 
only  the  rare  individual  who  for  a  moment  dreams  of  entering 
any  other  profession.  They  marry  young,  often  before  they  are 
twenty,  and  are  at  that  age  quite  as  adept  at  earning  a  living  in 
these  occupations  as  their  fathers.  Their  brides  are  usually  dark- 
eyed  children  of  fourteen  or  fifteen,  but  already  equally  as  skilled 
at  the  tasks  necessary  to  a  good  cook  and  housekeeper.  The  tiny 
houses  in  which  they  live,  in  many  instances  two-room  shacks, 
are  clean  and  orderly,  the  floors  scrubbed  white,  the  kitchen 
utensils  polished.  And  Cajun  cooking,  especially  in  .the  prepara- 
tion of  sea  foods,  may  rival  that  of  any  famous  city  chef.  Mar- 
riages last  for  life,  and  morals,  as  a  whole,  are  relatively  good 
among  them. 


i$4  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

A  Cajun  woman's  life  is  of  course  a  failure  should  she  not  cap- 
ture a  mate,  and  this  dreadful  prospect  causes  her  much  worry. 
The  Cajun  old  maid  is  so  rare  as  to  be  the  object  of  both  scorn  and 
pity.  From  the  time  she  is-  about  fourteen  her  family  begin  to 
nag  her  about  getting  herself  a  husband.  Each  night  many 
Cajun  girls  examine  their  heels  for  any  tinge  of  yellow,  for  such 
a  sign  is  a  certain  portent  of  spinsterhood.  Xante  Xherese  — 
herself  a  horrible  example  —  will  remember  mournfully  that  at 
the  age  of  seventeen  the  fatal  yellow  tinge  appeared  on  her  own 
heels,  and  here  she  is,  well  into  her  thirties,  and  of  course  with- 
out hope,  since  no  man  along  the  bayous  wants  such  an  old 
woman.  Xante  Xherese  reports  that  eighteen  is  just  about  the 
latest  a  girl  may  have  hope  of  marrying. 

But,  says  Xante  Xherese,  there  are  many  ways  of  rendering  a 
man  susceptible,  though  they  didn't  work  in  her  case.  Powder 
made  from  a  green  lizard  dried  in  the  sun,  when  thrown  upon 
the  object  of  a  girl's  desire,  makes  him  her  victim.  Or  she  might 
ask  him  to  dinner  and  put  the  scrapings  from  the  four  corners  of 
the  dinner  table  into  his  coffee.  She  may  also  put  parings  from 
her  fingernails  into  his  pockets,  or  write  him  a  letter  in  her  own 
blood.  For  an  immediate  proposal,  she  should  tie  a  rooster  under 
her  porch,  seat  the  man  in  a  rocking  chair  right  over  the  fowl, 
sit  beside  him,  and  wait.  He  can't  help  but  fall  in  love  with  her 
then. 

However,  even  should  all  this  fail,  there  is  still  poudre  de  Per- 
lainpainpain.  Xhis  takes  time  and  patience,  but  is  worth  it.  Xhe 
young  girl  must  catch  seventeen  floating  seeds  blown  from  a 
thistle  on  a  windy  day.  Xhe  down  is  removed  from  the  seeds, 
then  the  seeds  are  rubbed  over  the  honey  sac  of  a  bee,  caught  on  a 
clover  blossom  leaning  in  a  northerly  direction.  Xhis  must  be 
carefully  mixed  with  three  white  beans  buried  for  three  days  pre- 
viously under  a  mound  of  table  salt,  then  added  to  a  portion  of 
salt  —  measured  in  a  black  thimble.  Now  she  really  has  some- 
thing. Poudre  de  Perlainpainfain  rubbed  into  any  article  of  the 
clothing  of  her  lover  makes  him  hers  forever  and  all  time. 

Charivaris  are  still  popular  at  Cajun  marriages,  especially  at 
that  of  widows  to  single  men,  or  widowers  to  single  women. 
Xhe  marriage  of  Ulysse  Boudreaux  to  Onesia  Polite  might  have 


The  Cajuns  —  18  / 

been  celebrated  in  this  manner,  if  they  were  well  liked  in  their 
community,  for  a  charivari  is  an  expression  of  affection  and  ap- 
proval. A  Cajun  described  the  custom  this  way. 

'Charivari?  Sure,  M'sieu.  I  been  to  plenty,  me.  It's  given  a 
womans  what's  been  married  and  her  husband  is  dead,  or  to  a 
mans  when  he  marries  for  the  second  time.  These  is  only  given  to 
peoples  you  like  and  you  have  respect  for.  You  go  with  pots 
and  pans  and  make  noises  all  day  long  and  maybe  all  night  long 
on  the  outside  from  their  door.  They  got  to  come  out  and  prom- 
ise you  something,  yes,  like  icecream  and  cake  or  wine.  If  they 
don't  do  this  you  never  stop  making  noise,  no.  Or  you  decide 
they  ain't  no  good  to  bother  with,  and  they  get  no  more  chari- 
vari if  they  get  themselves  married  five  or  seven  times!  That's 
right,  hein?' 

Cajun  weddings  are  sometimes  grand  affairs.  Mrs.  Joe  Gif- 
fault  described  her  first  one  in  all  its  glamorous  detail,  as  soon  as 
Mr.  GifFault,  her  second  husband,  left  the  room. 

'I  didn't  want  to  talk  about  my  first  wedding  before  him,'  she 
explained.  'I  don't  think  that's  right,  me.  But  I  sure  had  some 
wedding  the  first  time,  God,  it  was  beautiful !  Me,  I  got  myself 
married  young;  I  was  not  made  sixteen,  no.  We  was  two  pairs 
getting  married  together,  and  each  of  us  girls  had  seven  friends 
with  us  and  each  of  the  mans  had  seven.  There  was  fourteen 
peoples  on  each  side,  fourteen  pairs  of  them.  We  got  us  married 
in  church  and  everybody  was  there  except  my  mamma.  And  she 
had  a  good  reason.  You  see,  my  mamma  always  wore  a  sun- 
bonnet  and  didn't  never  have  herself  no  hat.  I  tell  her  to  get  her- 
self a  hat,  but  she  say  she  ain't  gon'  buy  no  hat  just  for  that  one 
occasion,  so  she  stay  home.  She  didn't  believe  in  nothing  like 
that,  no. 

'After  the  wedding  there  was  a  big  barge  waiting  on  the 
bayou.  Everybody  danced  on  the  barge  all  the  way  back  to  the 
house,  and  when  they  got  to  the  house  they  danced  all  night.  It 
was  fine.  Me,  I  had  the  best  time  I  ever  knowed.  I  always  likes 
to  promenade  myself  like  that,  me.  And  food!  We  had  every- 
thing anybody  wanted,  us.  One  of  my  aunts  made  that  cake.  I 
ain't  never  seen  a  wedding  like  that,  me.  We  dressed  ourselves 
just  like  brides,  yes.  And  we  carried  paper  flowers  what  a  Cajun 


j  8  6  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

lady  made  for  us.  They  was  red  and  blue  and  yellow  and  purple. 
They  sure  was  pretty.  The  party  and  the  eating  and  the  dancing 
lasted  all  night  and  all  the  next  day.  That's  for  true! 

'No,  we  didn't  go  on  no  trip.'  Mrs.  GifFault  laughed  at  that 
idea.  'How  could  we  do  that,  hein?  I  had  me  plenty  work  the 
morning  after  the  wedding.  My  husband  had  him  a  fine  chicken 
yard,  and  I  had  all  them  eggs  to  pick  up  and  a  cow  to  milk  and 
I  had  to  cook  him  his  breakfast.' 

At  the  reappearance  of  Mr.  GifFault  his  wife  ceased  talking. 

'Clementine  is  my  second  wife,'  he  said.  'My  wife  that  die  is 
mother  for  my  first  twelve  childrens.  Clementine  is  got  four 
childrens  from  her  first  husband  and  we  got  us  three  more 
together. ' 

'My  name  ain't  Clementine,'  interrupted  Mrs.  GifFault.  'It  is 
Armentine.' 

'  Hokay !  Hokay !'  said  Mr.  GifFault  impatiently.  '  If  you  want 
to  be  called  by  that  it's  all  right  with  me.' 

'Non!'  said  Mrs.  GifFault  emphatically.  'My  name  she  is  Ar- 
mentine !  That  is  what  my  mamma  called  me  by  and  that  is  my 
name.' 

'Well,  that's  the  first  time  I  ever  know  that,'  said  Mr.  Gif- 
fault.  And  in  explanation : '  Me,  I  don't  worry  what  her  name  is. 
I  never  call  her  nothing.  Everybody  call  her  Miz  Joe  since  she 
married  with  me,  anyway.' 

'Before  that,'  said  Mrs.  GifFault,  'they  call  me  Miz  Alex, 
'cause  my  first  husband  he  was  named  Mr.  Alex  Thibodeaux. 
Lots  of  peoples  calls  married  womans  by  their  husband's  first 
names.  They  got  plenty  Cajun  lady  called  Miz  Joe,  Miz  Papite, 
or  Miz  Henri.  Me,  most  times  I  calls  myself  Miz  Joe.  Nobody 
ever  calls  me  Miz  GifFault,  no/ 

Still  in  use  along  the  bayous,  relics  of  the  days  when  everyone 
spoke  French,  are  various  picturesque  expressions.  Common  are 
ones  used  to  describe  a  person  of  great  age. 

Any  resident  of  the  Bayou  LaFourche  section  will  understand 
you  immediately  if  you  say  a  man  is  vieux  comme  les  chemins,  for  a 
man  as  old  as  the  highways  would  indeed  be  old. 

In  Golden  Meadow  there  is  a  term  which  has  become  almost  a 
local  proverb:  Vieux  comme  le  billet  a  M'sieu  Etienne.  M'sieu 


The  Cajuns  —  187 

Etienne  is  seventy-five-year-old  Etienne  St.  Pierre,  and  his  billet  is 
a  piece  of  paper  money,  once  worth  twenty-five  cents,  though 
long  out  of  currency,  that  has  been  in  his  possession  for  sixty 
years.  It  is  the  first  money  he  ever  earned,  and  he  has  always 
kept  it.  That's  why  folk  in  Golden  Meadow  have  coined  the 
saying:  as  old  as  Mr.  fitienne's  bill. 
Rosalee  Barrosse  remembered  her  Tante  Bebe  well. 
'We  is  all  live  for  be  good  old  age  in  our  family,'  Rosalee 
boasted.  'Tante  Bebe  live  for  be  one  hundred  and  seex;  that  is 
long  time  for  this  world,  hein?  She  was  real  French,  was  opera 
singer  in  Paris,  but  she  come  live  with  us  when  she  get  old  and 
just  sing  for  us  keeds.  She  all  time  sing  and  laugh  till  time  she 
die.  She  use  make  us  keeds  laugh  funny  way  she  speak  English 
after  live  in  Paris  so  long.  Sure  was  funny  way  she  had,  her. 
When  we  laugh  she  don't  get  mad,  though.  She  just  say,  "You 
laugh  for  way  I  say  thing  in  English,  hein?  Well,  I  can't  do  no 
different  and  if  that  make  you  happy,  you  laugh."  You  know 
when  she  want  for  say  English  word  she  gonna  say  it  even  if  she 
bust,  her.  Out,  Monsieur,  she  get  raid  in  face  sometime  trying  to 
say  one  English  word.  All  the  time  she  make  up  funny  song. 
You  know  when  they  take  them  sheeps  to  the  slaughterhouse 
how  sad  it  is?  Them  poor  little  sheeps  they  got  tears  in  their 
little  eyes  and  they  cry  "Baa  —  Baa!"  all  the  way.  Sure,  they 
know  where  they  go,  them.  Well  Tante  Bebe  she  make  up  song 
like  this: 

Mouton,  lAouton  —  est  ou  ton  vasl 

A  la  Abb  atom. 

Quand  tu  reviens!    j     g 

Jamais  — -  Baa! 

In  English  that  mean: 

Sheep,  sheep  —  where  are  you  going? 
To  the  slaughterhouse. 
When  will  you  return? 
Never  —  Baa ! 

'Once  we  had  little  cousin  we  call  Tee  Sharle,  that  mean  Lil' 
Charles.  He  was  kind  of  sickly.  Tante  Bebe  she  gave  him  a  little 
raid  wagon,  and  he  crazy  'bout  it,  play  weeth  it  all  time.  Then 


1 88  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Tee  Sharle  die  in  convulsion.  Poor  Tee  Sharle  was  put  in  little 
white  coffin  and  taken  away  to  graveyard.  Poor  Tante  Bebe  she 
stand  on  her  front  porch  when  the  funeral  pass  and  after  it  is  gone 
by  her  house  she  cry  hard  and  she  say  over  and  over  again, 
"  Paume  Tee  Sharle!  Jamais  I  see  him  again !  Jamais  I  see  his  little 
raid  wagon!"  Then  she  take  one  hand  down  from  before  her 
eyes  and  she  wave,  all  time  crying,  ' '  Adieu!  Adieu!  Adieu,  pauvre 
Tee  Sharle!"  But  all  the  time  she  wave  in  wrong  direction.  I  say 
to  her,  "Tante  Bebe,  the  funeral  go  other  way.  She  is  go  other 
way  you  wave  your  hand."  She  stop  sudden-like  and  she  say, 
"Hein?"  I  tell  her  again,  "The  funeral  go  in  other  way."  "O 
mats  out!"  she  say.  Then  she  turn  'round  and  wave  her  hand  in 
right  way  and  start  say  all  over  again,  "Pauvre  Tee  Sharle! 
Jamais  I  see  him  again!  Jamais  I  see  his  little  raid  wagon! 
Jamais!  Jamais!" 

Curious  names  are  popular  along  the  bayous.  Some  that  graced 
heroic  characters  of  Greece  are  hereditary  among  the  Cajuns. 
Hundreds  of  males  titled  Achille,  Ulysse,  Alcide  and  Telemaque 
now  row  pirogues  through  the  Louisiana  waterways.  There  is  a 
penchant  for  nicknames.  Even  animals  have  them.  Every  cat  is 
'Minou,'  and  every  child  is  given  some  diminutive  of  his  name. 
It  is  perfectly  safe  to  say  that  no  group  of  Cajuns  ever  assembled 
without  a  Doucette,  a  Bebe,  a  Bootsy  or  a  Tooti  among  them. 
At  one  school  a  family  of  seven  children,  named  Therese,  Marie, 
Odette,  Lionel,  Sebastian,  Raoul,  and  Laurie,  were  known  even 
to  their  teachers  as  Ti-ti,  Rie,  Dette,  Tank,  Bos,  Mannie  and 
La-la.  It  is  said  every  Cajun  family  has  a  member  known  as 
'Coon.'  Other  families,  like  the  Polites,  give  their  offspring 
names  that  all  start  with  the  same  letter.  An  '  E'  family  might 
be,  respectively,  Ernest,  Eugenie,  Euphemie,  Enzie,  Earl,  Elfert, 
Eulalie  and  Eupholyte. 

However,  there  are  comparatively  few  family  names.  There 
are  literally  thousands  of  Landrys,  Broussards,  Leblancs,  Bour- 
geoises and  Breauxs,  these  being  the  largest  families  of  Acadian 
descent  in  the  state. 

The  Cajun  has  great  reverence  and  affection  for  family  ties,  and 
this  extends  to  the  utmost  limits  of  relationship.  Among  no 
people  is  respect  for  their  elders  more  sincere,  and  nanaine  (god- 


The  Cajuns  —  i8g 

mother),  parrain  (godfather)  and  numerous  tantcs  (aunts)  and 
cousines  are  held  in  high  regard,  to  be  upheld  against  outsiders  at 
all  times,  to  be  taken  into  the  family  and  supported  for  life  if  the 
need  arise.  Distant  connections  still  reside  in  Nova  Scotia,  and 
more  prosperous  groups  of  Cajuns  make  pilgrimages  there,  and 
Nova  Scotians  journey  to  Louisiana  to  visit  the  Evangeline  Oak 
at  St.  Martin ville  and  to  kneel  at  the  grave  of  Emmaline  Labiche, 
original  of  the  heroine  of  Longfellow's  poem,  where  a  light  is 
kept  burning. 

Death  receives  even  more  than  usual  respect  among  these 
people.  Widows  drape  themselves  in  black  veils  for  a  year,  wear 
black  without  the  veil  for  another,  and  black  and  white  the  next 
year  or  two.  Men  wear  crepe  arm  bands,  and  children  are  often 
put  into  mourning  at  tender  ages.  So  large  are  some  Cajun  fam- 
ilies that  there  seems  always  to  be  evidence  of  death  among  them. 

Cajun  widows  sometimes  soon  recover  from  their  grief,  how- 
ever. A  stranger  paying  a  visit  of  condolence  to  one  was  in- 
formed by  the  bereaved's  sister-in-law,  '  Oh,  you  ought  to  see  her 
already!  She  is  all  frisce  and  rougie.  Every  time  she  see  a  man 
she  roll  her  eyes,  toute  gougou!' 

Of  first  importance  in  their  lives  is  religion.  They  are,  almost 
without  exception,  Roman  Catholic,  and  the  parish  priest  is  an 
important  personage.  Catholicism  is  responsible  for  some  of  the 
most  colorful  customs. 

Perhaps  the  best  known  of  these  is  the  annual  blessing  of  the 
shrimp  fleet.  For  this  ceremony,  which  takes  place  each  August, 
the  Archbishop  from  New  Orleans  goes  into  the  bayou  country 
to  bless  the  boats  and  trawlers  for  the  opening  of  the  shrimp  sea- 
son. Rites  are  held  at  Bayou  Petit  Caillou,  Bayou  Grand  Caillou, 
Bayou  Barataria  and  Golden  Meadow.  These  pious  people 
would  not  begin  the  season  without  having  their  boats  blessed. 

Fifteen  hundred  Cajuns  gathered  at  Mass  and  Holy  Com- 
munion at  Bayou  Petit  Caillou  in  1939,  the  morning  the  blessing 
was  to  take  place.  Immediately  after  Mass,  the  procession, 
headed  by  three  altar  boys,  then  the  Archbishop,  gorgeous  in  a 
rich  golden  cope  flowing  from  his  shoulders  almost  to  the 
ground,  in  towering  golden  miter  and  golden  crozier,  followed 
by  visiting  bishops  and  at  least  twenty-five  priests,  walked  to  the 


i go  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

platform  over  the  bayou  where  the  ceremonies  were  to  take 
place.  His  Eminence  first  blessed  the  boats  collectively,  the 
choir  singing  lustily  as,  one  by  one,  the  boats  were  unloosened. 
Some  boats  carried  as  many  as  ten  people,  men,  women  and  chil- 
dren, all  attired  in  their  best  Sunday  clothes,  and  every  boat  was 
freshly  painted  and  gaily  bedecked  with  brilliantly  colored  flags 
and  pennants. 

Atop  the  cabin  of  one  boat  perched  a  two-hundred-pound 
woman,  breathlessly  fanning  herself  with  a  palmetto  fan  and 
looking  acutely  uncomfortable.  In  all  probability  this  was  the 
first  time  she  had  worn  a  corset  since  last  year.  The  corset  and 
her  pink  Mother  Hubbard  were  her  only  concessions  to  the  oc- 
casion, however.  One  of  the  spectators  pointed  at  her  and  called 
out,  '  Regarde  Naomie  in  her  bare  feets!' 

As  the  boats  approached  the  Archbishop  everyone  knelt  and 
made  the  sign  of  the  cross.  Someone  became  worried  that  the 
Archbishop  would  not  have  enough  holy  water,  and  cried, 
'There  ain't  enough  holy  water  in  that  thing  to  bless  all  them 
boats,  no.' 

These  boats  go  out  as  far  as  forty  miles  in  the  Gulf  and  return 
about  every  fifteen  days  to  refuel.  The  freight  and  ice  boats 
make  daily  rounds  to  pick  up  the  catch  and  bring  it  to  the  fac- 
tories. Approximately  fifty  thousand  of  these  Cajuns  are  em- 
ployed in  the  Louisiana  shrimp  industry. 

Another  impressive  Catholic  rite  takes  place  on  All  Saints' 
Day,  November  i .  Priests  gather  at  dusk  in  the  cemeteries  of  the 
Cajun  parishes  to  offer  Masses  for  the  souls  of  the  dead,  hundreds 
of  blessed  candles  being  lighted  on  graves,  filling  the  advancing 
darkness  with  weird  flickering  lights  and  eerie  shadows. 

Cajuns  celebrate  not  only  the  American  Christmas,  but  Le 
Bonhomme  Janvier  on  New  Year's  Eve,  at  which  time  the  children 
receive  candy,  fruit  and  fireworks,  and  nanaines,  -parrains,  tantes 
and  other  relatives  visit  branches  of  the  family,  exchanging  gifts 
and  .greetings.  Besides,  there  are  many  religious  holidays  in  the 
Cajuns'  calendar,  each  with  its  peculiar  customs. 

Intermingled  with  this  passionate  Catholicity  is  much  super- 
stition of  an  entirely  primitive  type.  There  are  even  werewolves 
in  Louisiana!  Here  they  are  known  as  loup-garous ;  and  are  the 


The  Cajuns 

most  dreaded  and  feared  of  all  the  haunts  of  the  bayouland.  Ac- 
counts of  lycanthropy  are  rare  in  America,  but  Cajun  children  are 
constantly  warned,  '  The  loup-garous  will  get  you,  yes!  You  better 
be  good.'  And  many  of  the  children's  elders  believe  emphati- 
cally in  the  existence  of  these  horrible  wolf-things. 

There  are  many  loup-garous,  some,  people  under  a  spell,  and 
others  enjoying  self-imposed  enchantment.  A  Cajun  will  ex- 
plain: '  Loup-garous  is  them  people  what  wants  to  do  bad  work, 
and  changes  themselves  into  wolves.  They  got  plenty  of  them, 
yes.  And  you  sure  know  them  when  you  see  them.  They  got  big 
red  eyes,  pointed  noses  and  everything  just  like  a  wolf  has,  even 
hair  all  over,  and  long  pointed  nails.  They  rub  themselves  with 
some  voodoo  grease  and  come  out  just  like  wolves  is.  You  keep 
away  you  see  any  of  them  things,  hein?  They  make  you  one  of 
them,  yes,  quick  like  hell.  They  hold  balls  on  Bayou  Goula  all 
the  time,  mens  and  womens,  both  together.  They  dance  and 
carry  on  just  like  animals,  them.  If  you  see  one,  you  just  get 
yourself  one  nice  frog  and  throw  him  at  them  things.  They  sure 
gon'  run  then.  They  scared  of  frogs.  That's  the  only  way  to 
chase  a  loup-garou  away  from  you.  Bullets  go  right  through  him. ' 

Loup-garous  have  bats  as  big  as  airplanes  to  carry  them  where 
they  want  to  go.  They  make  these  bats  drop  them  down  your 
chimney,  and  they  stand  by  your  bed  and  say,  '  I  got  you  now, 
me!'  Then  they  bite  you  and  suck  your  blood  and  that  makes 
you  a  loup-garou,  and  soon  you  find  yourself  dancing  at  their  balls 
at  Bayou  Goula  and  carrying  on  just  as  they  do.  You're  a  lost 
soul. 

'  Is  a  good  idea  to  hang  a  new  sifter  outside  from  your  house, 
yes.  Then  they  got  to  stop  and  count  every  hole  in  that  sifter, 
and  you  catch  them  and  sprinkle  them  with  salt.  That  sets  them 
on  fire  and  they  step  out  of  them  shaggy  old  skins  and  runs  away. 
But,  me,  I  don't  fool  'round  with  no  loup-garous!' 

Some  loup-garous  change  themselves  into  mules  and  work  their 
own  land,  a  power  which  must  have  certain  and  definite  eco- 
nomic advantages. 

The  letiche  is  the  soul  of  an  unbaptized  infant  who  haunts 
small  children  in  their  beds  at  night,  a  wandering,  restless  young 
spirit  for  whom  there  is  no  peace.  Down  in  Terrebonne  Parish 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

the  children  talk  as  familiarly  of  mermaids  as  if  they  were  their 
daily  companions.  And  the  age-old  tale  of  the  sirens,  whose 
sweet  music  attracts  men  and  costs  them  their  souls,  is  as  alive 
among  the  Cajun  fishermen  today  as  ever  it  was  in  Ancient 
Greece. 

Belief  in  the  Evil  One  is  very  strong.  Woe  to  him  who  is  so 
unfortunate  as  to  be  caught  in  his  snares.  And  the  Devil  uses 
many  a  subtle  wile  in  securing  his  victims.  Even  the  most  inno- 
cent appearing  or  beautiful  things  may  be  traps  set  by  His 
Satanic  Majesty. 

'You  be  careful,  Noonie!'  will  warn  a  mother  as  her  daughter 
departs  for  school.  '  You  keep  your  feets  on  the  road,  yes.  Don't 
you  go  wandering  off  after  a  flower  or  nothing.  I  know  you,  me. 
You  is  bete  comme  un  chou,  but  plenty  a  foolish  cabbage  been 
caught  by  that  Evil  One.  You  walk  straight  to  your  school- 
house  and  don't  pay  no  mind  to  nothing  else,  hein?' 

And  Noonie  will  walk  very  fast  down  the  road  winding  with 
the  bayou,  looking  neither  to  right  nor  left,  her  bare  feet  kicking 
up  the  dust.  Hasn't  she  heard  that  story  about  the  Cajun  lady 
who  almost  got  herself  caught  by  the  Evil  One  just  because  she 
went  into  the  woods  to  pick  a  flower? 

This  lady  was  in  a  strange  and  fearful  condition  for  a  Cajun 
lady.  She  had  been  married  for  years  and  as  yet  she  had  never 
had  a  baby!  Her  husband  was  disgusted,  too.  All  he  did  was 
talk  about  what  a  fine  son  he  would  have,  how  much  he  would 
fight  and  drink  and  have  all  the  women  chasing  him,  because  he 
would  be  one  fine  lover  like  his  father.  He  would  always  say, 
too,  '  My  son,  when  he  grow  up  would  be  best  damn  hunter  in 
whole  bayou  country  and  Unite'  States,  him!'  And  this  poor 
woman  would  brood  about  it  all  the  time.  'Every  day  she 
watch  herself  close  and  sometimes  she  say,  "Now  I'm  gon'  have 
this  bebe  for  Alcide!"  But  always  she  is  fooled  herself.  Nothing 
ever  happen.'  She  lived  in  church  all  day,  praying  to  the  Virgin 
Mary,  but  nothing  occurred. 

Then  one  day  she  was  walking  along  a  road  and  she  spied  a 
beautiful  flower.  She  picked  it.  Then  she  saw  another  and 
another.  She  began  to  gather  a  bouquet  of  them  and  each  one 
led  her  deeper  into  the  woods.  Suddenly  she  spied  something 


The  Cajum 

white  under  a  tree,  and  instantly  she  dropped  her  flowers  and  ran 
toward  it.  It  was  a  handsome  little  baby  boy,  and  when  she 
reached  and  lifted  him  in  her  arms  he  laughed  and  gurgled  in  a 
way  that  went  straight  to  her  heart.  '  His  cruel  mother  has  left 
him  here  to  die,'  she  told  herself.  'Maybe  the  Virgin  has  an- 
swered my  prayers  and  sent  me  to  find  him.  I  will  take  him 
home,  yes,  he  will  be  a  son  for  Alcide.' 

Then,  the  child  in  her  arms,  she  hastened  out  of  the  woods,  but 
as  she  neared  the  road  she  remembered  she  had  not  thanked  the 
Virgin  for  this  son.  So,  spreading  her  shawl  for  the  baby  to  lie 
on,  she  knelt  to  pray.  But  when  she  did  this  the  baby  began  to 
yell  and  he  shrieked  louder  and  louder,  almost  as  if  he  didn't  like 
her  prayers.  'So  she  told  the  Virgin  she  got  to  wait  until  she 
gets  home,  her.  Then  she'll  pray  some  more.' 

Then  she  started  to  pick  the  baby  up ...  '  and  when  she  seen 
him  her  heart  she  turned  like  ice  inside  her,  yes.  'Cause  that 
baby  wasn't  no  pink-and-white  baby  like  before,  no,  but  a  thing 
what  was  all  black  and  shiny  and  ugly.  And  that  black  thing 
began  to  grow  and  get  bigger  and  bigger  every  minute.  That 
womans  got  so  scared  she  almost  died,  her!  All  she  could  think 
to  do  was  to  make  the  sign  of  the  cross  quick.  And  she  done 
found  herself  the  right  thing,  too,  'cause  the  Devil  he  didn't  like 
that;  when  he  seen  that  sign  of  the  cross,  he  let  loose  a  yell  like 
somebody  hit  him  and  he  run  off  into  them  woods  and  that 
Cajun  lady  don't  see  him  no  more,  never!' 

That's  why  Noonie  isn't  picking  any  flowers.  She  wouldn't 
even  look  at  them,  her. 

After  the  birth  of  a  child  the  backbone  of  a  shark  must  be  se- 
cured and  kept  in  readiness  for  his  teething  period.  The  dog 
shark  is  noted  for  the  large  number  of  its  sharp,  strong  teeth,  and 
it  is  believed  that  to  string  eight  of  the  fish's  vertebrae  for  the 
child  to  wear  about  its  throat  will  result  in  a  transfer  of  the 
quality  of  the  dog  shark's  teeth  to  the  infant. 

From  a  small  child's  breast  there  is  often  a  sticky  exudation 
called  witches'  milk  by  the  Cajuns.  Children  who  become  cross 
and  fretful  are  believed  victims  of  an  evil  witch,  who  comes 
nightly  to  suckle  at  their  breasts.  A  broom  placed  across  the 
threshold  of  the  door  will  prevent  this.  No  witch  will  step  over 
a  broom. 


1 94  ~  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Until  very  recently  doctors  were  almost  unknown  among  the 
Cajuns.  Only  good  roads  and  the  extensive  use  of  automobiles 
brought  them.  Besides,  the  general  poverty  of  the  Cajuns  had 
offered  no  inducement  for  medical  men  to  settle  among  them. 
In  all  communities  certain  people,  usually  old  women,  came  to 
be  looked  on  as  their  equivalents.  Many  strange  remedies  be- 
came popular  and  these  cures  are  by  no  means  extinct  today.  In 
some  places  doctors  are  still  viewed  with  suspicion,  and  their 
prescriptions  if  used  at  all  are  secretly  accompanied  by  the  ones 
of  the  past  eras. 

'I  know  some  of  them  old  things,  me,'  Marie  Polite  would 
probably  tell  you,  despite  the  fact  that  her  Ovide  had  to  go  to 
the  city  to  obtain  treatment  for  his  'woman  sickness.'  'Them 
old  things  is  the  best,  you  bet.  Si  fas  des  douleurs  ou  des  mals,  take 
pepper  grass  and  bathe  yourself  all  over  with  it.  All  your  pains 
and  aches  gon'  go  away  then.  Fill  yourself  a  tub  with  hot,  hot 
water,  put  in  a  handful  of  that  grass  and  soak  good.  It  sure 
makes  your  bones  feel  nice.  You  ought  to  take  a  prickly  pear  and 
peel  him  like  a  potato  and  soak  him  in  water  and  drink  that. 
That  good  for  you  all  over  your  inside,  yes.  When  your  blood  is 
hot  it  sure  make  him  cool  for  you.  You  know  the  flower  what 
the  elderberry  tree  makes  is  good  for  measles,  hein?  And  you 
take  the  first  bark  off  the  elderberry  tree,  then  scrape  the  second 
bark  good  and  make  yourself  some  tea  with  that.  There  ain't 
nothing  better  than  that  elderberry  tea,  no/ 

Babies  are  fed  tea  made  of  earth  from  a  mud  dauber's  nest  to 
strengthen  them;  children  are  made  to  sleep  on  mattresses  of 
moss  gathered  from  the  cypress  tree.  The  strength  of  that  tree 
goes  into  the  moss  and  right  into  them,  making  them  very 
strong. 

Rheumatism  is  treated  with  fly  blister,  an  ointment  made  by 
mashing  lightning  bugs  which  have  been  soaked  in  alcohol.  The 
thick  leaves  of  the  prickly  pear,  boiled  down  with  plenty  of 
sugar,  are  the  best  cure  in  the  Cajun  world  for  whooping  cough. 
Sunstroke  is  treated  with  a  brew  made  by  boiling  the  sticky 
young  branches  of  willow  trees.  Those  suffering  with  kidney 
disorders  receive  tea  made  from  the  swamp  lily.  Athlete's  foot 
is  bathed  with  a  liquid  of  boiled  pecan  leaves  with  a  pinch  of 
cooking  soda. 


The  Cajuns 

A  person  tormented  with  asthma  should  wear  a  muskrat  skin 
over  his  lungs.  If  a  snake  bites  you  race  him  to  the  water.  If  you 
beat  him  there  and  dip  in  the  wound,  he  will  die  instead  of  you. 
Soap  mixed  with  the  yellow  of  an  egg  and  sugar  will  cure  a  boil, 
as  will  an  ointment  of  lard  and  charcoal.  For  chills  and  fever  go 
toward  the  bed  as  if  to  get  into  it,  but  get  under  it  instead. 

Most  Cajuns  sleep  with  their  houses  tightly  scaled,  no  matter 
how  hot  the  night.  This  is  not  only  for  fear  of  the  louf-garous, 
but  also  because  the  'night  air'  is  deadly  and  hlled  with  germs. 

You  can  always  tell  whether  a  woman's  labor  pains  will  be 
severe  or  not  from  the  way  in  which  the  steam  rises  from  her 
kettle  the  day  she  is  to  give  birth  to  her  child.  An  expectant 
mother  must  not  let  anyone  comb  her  hair  or  sweep  under  the 
bed  during  the  time  she  is  confined,  else  she  will  have  trouble 
having  her  baby. 

Common  bayou  belief  holds  that  mothers  must  not  comb  their 
infants'  hair  until  they  are  nine  days  old.  It  is  darkly  hinted 
that  all  bald  men  owe  their  bare  pates  to  ignorance  of  this  fact. 
No  child  should  have  his  hair  cut  until  he  has  passed  his  first 
year.  Even  then  the  operation  must  be  performed  during  a  full 
moon;  if  done  while  the  moon  is  fading  to  a  thin  sliver  the  baby's 
crop  will  fade  accordingly.  Neither  must  fingernails  be  cut  until 
le  jeune  enfant  is  past  that  first  year,  violation  of  this  taboo  being 
considered  very  serious,  though  no  one  knows  exactly  what 
might  happen.  Mirrors  must  be  kept  away  from  the  infant;  it 
would  not  do  for  him  to  develop  vanity  when  so  young!  He 
must  never  be  allowed  to  see  anyone  who  is  extremely  ugly;  he 
must  always  wear  white;  and  he  must  never  be  taken  to  a  funeral 
or  to  a  cemetery.  Raising  a  babe  on  the  bayous  presents  even 
more  problems  than  in  other  places. 

Once  there  was  a  man  and  a  woman  who  were  just  married. 
The  man  had  a  Bible,  and  the  woman  said,  'I'd  rather  have  the 
Devil  in  my  house  than  any  Bible.'  Before  long  she  had  a  child 
and  it  had  horns  on  its  head.  And,  of  course,  if  the  mother  is 
frightened  by  an  animal  while  carrying  the  child,  the  infant  will 
certainly  be  marked  in  some  way,  maybe  resembling  the  animal 
when  born. 

There  are  many  superstitions  besides  the  medical  ones.   Marie 


i  9  6  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Polite  can  tell  you  about  them.  '  When  you  find  out  you  forgot 
something  and  got  to  go  back  to  the  house,  before  you  go  back 
there,  you  be  sure  to  make  a  cross  mark  right  on  the  spot  where 
you  turned  around,  yes.  And  when  you  come  back  you  rub  that 
cross  mark  out,  or  bad  luck  she  gon'  sure  follow  you,  her.  If  you 
go  out  on  picnic  and  she  is  rain  hard,  go  out  in  yard  and  make 
cross  with  two  sticks  and  put  some  salt  on  top  that  cross.  That 
sure  stop  rain!  That  what  us  Cajuns  call  gris-gris. 

'Be  sure  on  New  Year's  Day  you  cook  some  cabbage,  even  if 
nobody  she  don't  eat  him.  You  won't  have  to  worry  about  food 
all  the  next  year,  no.  M'sieu,  that  is  for  true!  Me,  I  don't  be- 
lieve if  black  cat  walk  front  from  you  that  be  bad  luck.  I  think 
is  good  luck.  But  plenty  Cajuns  believe  other  ways.  If  you  see 
spider  in  room,  don't  you  kill  him,  no.  That  very  bad  for  your 
luck.  But  if  you  hear  cricket  sing  by  your  house  —  ah!  —  that 
she  is  fine  for  you.  You  gon'  have  best  luck  all  year,  yes.  Turn 
up  your  collar  when  you  is  under  the  full  moon  and  you  is  get 
yourself  all  the  fine  clothes  you  want  for  the  whole  year.  'Course 
you  know  about  open  embrella  in  your  house  is  very  worse  thing 
you  can  do;  and  that  bride  on  her  wedding  day  must  have  some- 
thing old,  something  new  and  something  she  borrows  from  a 
good  neighbor  and  something  blue.  Those  not  Cajun  only,  no. 
Everybody  in  the  whole  Unite'  State'  believe  in  them,  hein?' 

You  must  spit  on  your  bait  before  you  throw  it  in  the  water  if 
you  hope  for  a  good  catch.  If  you  burn  your  finger  striking  a 
match,  put  the  burnt  match  behind  your  ear,  as  the  heat  of  the 
match  will  draw  the  pain  from  your  finger.  Always  leave  one 
end  of  a  loaf  of  bread  until  last.  If  you  eat  both  ends  before  the 
middle,  then  you'll  have  trouble  making  ends  meet  in  your  life. 
And  if  a  neighbor  asks  you  to  sell  him  a  pig,  or  cow  or  any  other 
animal,  you  had  better  do  it,  because  if  you  don't  the  animal  will 
die. 

' One  thing  you  must  not  do,'  said  Marie,  '  is  to  take  down  cur- 
tains from  your  doors  and  windows  to  wash  in  month  of  August. 
That  is  very  bad  thing,  yes.  For  sure  as  you  hang  curtain  back  in 
month  of  August,  so  sure  is  you  gon'  hang  crepe  on  your  door. 
And  I  tell  you  something  else  bad,  me.  You  must  never  lay  your 
bread  on  table  on  his  backside.  Always  lay  bread  on  his  belly 


The  Cajuns 

side.  Don't  never  kill  no  spider.  That  is  bad  luck  for  long  time. 
Is  worse  than  breakin'  lookin'  glass,  that.  If  you  just  bust  up 
spider  web,  that  means  is  gon'  rain  before  day  is  through.  If  you 
put  your  drawers  on  wrong  side  out  by  mistake  like,  you  is  got 
to  spit  on  them  before  you  change.  If  you  spit  like  that  you  have 
good  luck. all  day  long.' 

If  an  alligator  crawls  under  your  house  it  is  a  portent  of  death. 
If  a  woman  is  infidele  to  her  husband  just  before  doing  her  baking, 
the  bread  will  not  rise.  This  evidence  has  caused  many  a  husband 
to  beat  his  wife  when  her  bread  failed.  If  a  designing  woman 
can  sew  hair  combings  of  the  man  she  desires  in  her  mattress,  the 
rest  is  easy. 

Old  Monsieur  Rigaud,  a  descendant  of  one  of  Lafitte's  lieuten- 
ants, for  whom  Bayou  Rigaud  was  named,  offered  the  details  of 
a  sure-fire  gris-gris,  absolutely  guaranteed  to  evict  an  unwanted 
neighbor.  You  take  a  piece  of  red  flannel,  twelve  inches  by 
twenty-four  inches,  and  at  each  corner  sew  the  foot  of  a  baby 
duckling.  On  the  right  end  sew  a  dried  lizard  and  on  the  left  sew 
a  dried  frog.  Place  this  on  your  neighbor's  doorstep,  sprinkle 
sulphur  in  the  center  in  the  shape  of  a  cross.  When  the  man  sees 
that,  you  can  bet  he'll  move.  The  only  antidote  he  can  use  is  to 
throw  the  gris-gris  into  the  closest  stream  and  let  the  current 
carry  the  bad  luck  where  it  will.  Dried  frogs  are  always  es- 
pecially bad;  one  placed  on  your  doorstep  will  bring  tragedy  to 
the  home,  particularly  if  it  has  been  put  in  a  black  coffin. 

The  Cajun  is  usually  healthy,  lusty  and  red-blooded.  He  likes 
a  good  time  better  than  anything  in  the  world  and  always  has  a 
bit  more  enthusiasm  for  his  play  than  for  work.  Balls  .and 
dances,  usually  given  on  a  Saturday  night,  are  beloved  and  never 
fail  to  attract  everyone  who  can  get  there. 

Typical  is  the  all-night  dance  known  as  a  fais-do-do,  the  name 
being  a  corruption  of  fete  de  Dieu  or  Festival  of  God.  All  the 
family  attend  a  fais-do-do,  the  old,  the  young,  nanaines,  parrains 
and  old  maid  tantcs.  There  is  even  a  room  set  aside,  known  as  the 
pare  aux pe fits,  wherein  you  can  actually  'park'  the  babies.  But 
the  fais-do-do  is  extremely  exclusive  so  far  as  the  outside  world  is 
concerned,  the  exclusiveness  often  being  enforced  with  the  point 
of  a  knife,  or  with  a  gun. 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Married  women  seldom  dance  at  a  jais-do-do,  no  matter  how- 
young  they  may  be.  Most  Cajun  men  believe  it  improper  for 
their  women  to  dance,  and  these  wives,  sometimes  fifteen  or 
sixteen  years  old,  must  sit  on  benches  lining  the  walls,  gazing 
wistfully  at  their  husbands  and  the  single  girls  and  men  enjoying 
themselves. 

King  and  Queen  dances,  a  type  of  modernized  cotillion,  are 
still  immensely  popular.  A  boy  and  girl  must  be  chosen  who  are 
'  King'  and  '  Queen'  for  the  evening,  and  riots  often  result  because 
of  these  chosen  two. 

An  inhabitant  of  one  village  described  another  type  of  dance. 

'  You  ought  to  see  them  Yankee  dances.  Some  people  call  them 
Variety  dances.  They  is  the  same  things.  A  crowd  gets  together 
and  forms  sets  with  a  leading  couple  in  the  middle  from  the  floor. 
Then  they  dance  by  commandment,  like.  They  call  what  dance 
is  to  be  danced  and  you  dance  that  dance  until  they  change.  They 
do  the  polka,  mazurka  and  two-step  dances,  all  the  real  popular 
dances  what  is  danced  in  North  Unite'  State',  yes!' 

The  Mardi  Gras,  so  elaborately  celebrated  in  New  Orleans,  has 
festive  echoes  in  the  bayou  country.  Those  who  have  automo- 
biles decorate  their  cars  and  nearly  all  don  costumes  of  one  sort 
or  another. 

Peculiarly  Cajun  is  the  Mardi  Gras  custom  of  begging  for 
small  coins  and  for  chickens  to  make  gumbo  on  that  day.  A 
group  of  gay  maskers  will  approach  a  house,  mount  to  the  front 
porch,  and  be  invited  in  by  Madame,  who  serves  the  traditional 
refreshments  of  tac-tac  (popcorn),  beignets  (doughnuts)  and  ga- 
teaus  (tea  cakes).  They  chat  for  a  while,  then,  with  a  '  Bicn 
merct  and  one  more  chicken  added  to  their  sack,  depart. 

The  women  make  their  gumbo  outdoors,  fry  some  of  the 
chickens  and  cook  rice.  There  is  much  chatter  and  gossip.  Julie 
Bourgeois'  trousseau  is  enough  to  make  your  eyes  pop  out  like 
M'sieu  Frog's,  hein?  The  priest  is  to  read  her  bans  in  church 
Sunday.  Madame  Joubert's  rheumatism  is  worse.  That  crazy 
doctor  from  the  city  wanted  her  to  have  all  her  teeth  pulled  out, 
that  -paillasse!  How  can  pains  in  her  legs  have  anything  to  do 
with  her  teeth?  What  a  flirt  is  that  Louis  Thibodeaux,  yes !  And 
him  engaged  to  Clothilde  LeBlanc  over  a  year  now.  Poor 
Clothilde!  That  harelip  is  sad, 


The  Cajuns 

Mardi  Gras  Night  there  is  the  ball.  Everybody  attends.  The 
babies,  maybe  fifty  of  them,  are  all  in  the  fare  aux  petits.  It'll  be 
a  hard  job  finding  your  own  baby  when  the  ball  is  over.  As  a 
matter  of  fact,  some  mothers  take  home  the  wrong  baby  and  the 
next  day  they  must  be  redistributed.  When  a  child  turns  out  a 
disappointment  to  his  parents,  many  Cajun  mothers  and  fathers 
have  been  heard  to  exclaim  that  they  must  have  taken  home  the 
wrong  infant  from  a  Mardi  Gras  Ball.  Surely  their  own  offspring 
could  not  be  so  wicked,  no! 

Sports  occupy  much  of  the  Cajun's  time.  The  annual  pirogue 
race  on  Bayou  Barataria  is  immensely  popular.  It  attracts 
throngs,  not  only  from  the  Cajun  country,  but  also  from  New 
Orleans  and  neighboring  towns.  Each  year  hundreds  of  people 
line  the  marshes  along  the  three-and-one -quarter- mile  course  to 
watch  the  stirring  contest. 

A  pirogue  is  a  frail  shell  of  a  boat,  hewn  out  of  a  single  log, 
averaging  thirteen  feet  in  length  and  twenty-two  inches  in 
width.  They  are  indispensable  in  the  swamps  and  along  the 
bayous  and  coastal  marshes,  being  the  only  practical  means  of 
transportation.  While  their  frailty  makes  them  difficult  to  han- 
dle, these  Cajuns  skim  over  the  water  at  amazing  speeds,  the 
boats  often  loaded  with  shrimp  and  crabs.  Children  often  use 
them  in  traveling  to  and  from  school. 

So  great  is  Cajun  skill  that  the  races  are  thrilling  sights.  In 
1940  Adam  Billiot  won  the  race  for  the  fourth  consecutive  year, 
establishing  a  new  record  of  thirty-five  minutes  and  twenty 
seconds  for  the  four-mile  course.  Billiot  was  only  a  youth  of 
twenty  at  the  time,  but  for  years  the  highest  praise  anyone  of  the 
bayou  folk  can  give  another  has  been,  '  That  man,  he  paddle  like 
a  Billiot,  yes!'  In  1940  a  'Nawthun  Yankee'  entered  the  pirogue 
race  for  the  first  time.  This  caused  much  consternation.  If  this 
'Nawthuner'  won,  the  humiliation  of  the  Cajuns  would  be 
without  precedent.  They  managed  very  well,  however.  The 
'Nawthuner'  came  in  last.  Pirogues  are  for  Cajuns. 

Papegai  shooting  offers  the  winners  the  portions  of  a  calf  or  ox 
that  correspond  with  the  particular  part  of  the  wooden  animal 
they  manage  to  hit.  This  large  animal  is  attached  to  the  top  of  a 
long  pole  and  those  taking  part  must  pay  a  fee.  Lubin  Laurent, 


20  o  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

in  his  History  of  St.  John  the  Baptist  Parish,  tells  an  amusing  story 
in  connection  with  this.  It  involves  one  Telesphore  Cynporien, 
who  had  shot  off  the  head  of  the  wooden  animal  and  as  a  conse- 
quence must  be  the  one  to  lasso  the  ox  in  the  pasture.  To  make 
sure  he  could  hold  the  ox  once  he  caught  him,  Telesphore  tied 
one  end  of  the  rope  about  his  waist  —  and  proudly  walked  into 
the  pasture,  leaving  the  gate  wide  open.  All  at  once  spectators 
saw  the  ox  running  at  a  terrific  speed  toward  the  open  gate,  drag- 
ging Telesphore  behind  him,  and  as  the  ox  went  through  the 
gate  someone  yelled,  '  Where  are  you  going,  Telesphore?'  Tele- 
sphore yelled  back,  'How  I  know,  me;  for  why  don't  you  ask 
the  ox?' 

All  Cajuns  love  frog  legs,  so  hunting  the  frog  is  a  favorite 
pastime.  Even  children  take  part.  In  the  spring  frogs  come  out 
of  the  mud  where  they  spend  the  winter  and  begin  to  croak.  It  is 
said  that  the  entire  population  of  a  settlement  can  be  depended 
upon  to  take  part  in  a  frog  hunt. 

Children  take  part  in  the  important  crawfish  industry,  too.  So 
popular  is  this  that  they  even  have  a  little  song  about  it,  a  taunt- 
ing jingle  flung  at  the  Cajun  youngsters  by  Negro  children. 

Poor  crawfish  ain't  got  no  show, 
Frenchmen  catch  'em  and  make  gumbo. 

Go  all  'round  the  Frenchmen's  beds, 
Don't  find  nothin'  but  crawfish  heads. 

Here  is  another  version  of  the  same  teasing  song : 

Frenchman!  Frenchman!  Nine  days  old! 
Wrung  his  hands  off  in  a  crayfish  hole. 

Frenchman!  Frenchman!  Nine  days  old, 
Got  his  hand  broke  off  in  a  crayfish  hole. 

'Creeping  the  goose'  is  the  Cajun's  method  of  hunting  geese. 
They  believe  geese  always  leave  a  member  of  a  flock  posted  as  a 
sentinel,  and  that  this  sentinel  is  alert  for  only  one  thing,  the  ap- 
pearance of  any  watching  human  eyes.  So  the  Cajuns,  when  they 
have  spotted  geese  feeding  in  a  pond  or  bay,  begin  to  creep  to- 


The  Cajuns  —  201 

ward  them,  snaking  through  the  sawgrass  and  holding  their 
heads  down  so  that  their  eyes  cannot  be  seen  by  the  sentinel  bird. 
When  they  are  near  the  geese,  one  of  the  Cajuns,  who  has  been 
previously  selected,  claps  his  hands,  and  at  this  signal  all  the 
hunters  spring  up  and  fire. 

In  the  Attacapan  country  the  people  are  mostly  herdsmen,  for 
cattle  thrive  on  the  marshland.  There  they  have  become  skillful 
and  daring  riders.  Their  horses  are  small  Creole  ponies,  descend- 
ants of  the  mustangs  which  once  ran  wild  on  the  prairies.  These 
the  young  men  train  as  courting  horses,  teaching  them  to  prance, 
curvet,  rear  and  dance,  so  as  to  impress  the  young  ladies  whose 
favors  they  hope  to  win. 

The  Cajun  has  little  opportunity  to  enjoy  the  theater,  but  he 
makes  the  most  of  what  he  has.  Occasional  tent  shows  reach  the 
Cajun  communities,  and  when  this  happens  the  whole  village 
turns  out.  Paul  English  operated  one  of  these  repertoire  com- 
panies for  years,  and  many  amusing  incidents  occurred  when  his 
troupe  performed  for  Cajun  audiences.  He  was  very  popular  and 
was  known  as  'M'sieu  Paul*  to  everybody  along  the  bayous. 

On  one  occasion  while  playing  the  murder  mystery  '  The  Go- 
rilla,' English  used  the  same  uniform  for  the  gorilla  character  as 
was  used  in  the  New  York  production,  a  very  realistic  and  terror- 
provoking  costume.  At  the  end  of  the  play  the  gorilla  leaps 
from  the  stage  and  runs  down  the  aisle  of  the  theater,  most  of 
the  other  characters  in  the  play  behind  him.  In  the  most  culti- 
vated communities  this  sensational  bit  always  evoked  screams 
from  the  women  and  much  amusement  from  anyone  who  had 
never  seen  the  production  before.  In  the  bayou  country  the 
response  was  overwhelming.  Many  a  Cajun  fled,  or  joined  in 
the  chase. 

While  playing  one  small  town,  English  received  a  call  from 
three  Cajuns  carrying  bulky  bundles  on  their  backs.  After  being 
greeted  by  English,  one,  acting  as  spokesman,  revealed: 

'M'sieu  Paul,  we  is  all  gon'  come  see  your  show  tonight,  and 
we  want  to  promise  you  all  this  trouble  she  been  having  is  gon' 
stop,  yes.  We  is  all  your  good  friend,  M'sieu  Paul,  so  we  is  take 
care  of  all  that  for  you.' 

Puzzled,  English  asked,  '  What  do  you  mean,  boys?' 


202 —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

'Well,'  said  the  spokesman,  'we  understand  that  in  the  last 
go  'round  (last  act)  is  a  beeg  animal  that  she  bust  up  your  show 
every  night.  That  ain't  gon'  happen  no  more,  no.  Me,  Leon 
and  Tee  Jacques,  we  is  gon'  put  all  these  things  we  got  here  in 
them  aisles,  and  you  bet  your  life  that's  the  end  for  that  mon- 
kies!' 

They  had  all  brought  their  animal  traps! 

Movies  are  popular  all  over  the  Cajun  country,  cowboy  and 
other  types  of  action  pictures  being  first  choice.  '  Quiet,  please !' 
signs  are  wasted  in  Cajun  cinemas,  for  no  Cajun  ever  stops  talk- 
ing except  when  he's  asleep,  much  less  when  Gene  Autry  is 
chasing  rustlers  across  the  screen.  At  such  tense  moments,  lean- 
ing forward  in  their  seats,  Cajuns  will  yell : '  Come  on,  Gene !  Get 
him,  you!  I  would  not  let  him  get  away  with  that,  no.  Not 
me!'  And  with  anxious  sighs,  ' Sacre  bleu!  That  Gene  Autry  is 
sure  dead  now.  There  ain't  never  gon'  be  no  more  pictures  from 
him.  That's  for  true!' 

Baseball  has  its  devotees  as  elsewhere.  Nearly  every  town  has 
its  home  team.  They  are  exceptionally  good  teams,  too.  The 
Empire  Louisiana  nine,  made  up  of  brothers  and  first  cousins, 
won  every  Sunday  game  they  played  lor  three  consecutive  years. 
Some  of  these  boys  found  their  ways  into  minor  leagues,  but  none 
can  be  traced  as  having  joined  the  majors,  possibly  because  a 
Cajun  gets  homesick  very  quickly  and  has  an  absolute  horror  of 
cold  weather,  which  is  anything  under  fifty  degrees.  Auguste 
Breaux  explained:  'Even  this  water  down  here  don't  like  cold 
weather,  no.  You  see  how  as  soon  as  she  gets  a  little  cold  she 
turns  herself  into  ice?' 

Food,  its  preparation  and  consumption,  must  be  classified  as  a 
Cajun  pleasure.  Cooking  is  an  art.  Eating,  one  of  life's  genuine 
delights.  At  community  gatherings,  at  church  fairs,  in  the 
home,  great  skill  and  infinite  patience  go  into  the  creation  of 
their  dishes. 

Favorites  are  oysters,  which  can  be  served  in  at  least  thirty- 
five  different  ways,  crawfish  bisque,  courtbouillon,  crabs,  soft- 
shelled  and  hard,  spaghetti  and  bouchettes,  the  latter  a  kind  of 
meatball  made  with  chopped  onion  and  sweet  pepper,  fried 
chicken  —  and  no  one  can  fry  chicken  like  a  Cajun !  —  fish  in  a 


The  Cajuns  —  203 

hundred  and  one  different  ways.  Always  there  is  gumbo,  made 
with  crabs,  shrimp  and  ham,  sometimes  with  chicken,  beef  or 
sausage,  and  thickened  with  file,  the  powdered  leaves  of  the 
sassafras  plant,  or  with  okra.  Various  jambalayas  are  favorites, 
combining  rice,  tomatoes  and  seasoning  with  oysters,  shrimp, 
ham,  sausage  or  other  meat  or  sea  food.  Grillades  are  popular; 
these  are  veal  rounds  cut  into  squares  and  cooked  in  a  roux,  a 
highly  seasoned  brown  gravy  nearly  always  present  on  Cajun 
tables.  Rice  is  always  there,  too,  white  and  dry,  each  grain  sep- 
arate. Bouillabaisse,  a  stew  of  several  kinds  of  fish,  usually  red- 
fish  and  red  snapper  with  crabs,  shrimp,  oysters  and  crayfish,  all 
highly  seasoned,  with  tomatoes  and  shallots  in  the  gravy,  is 
common.  Cafe  noir  —  strong  black  coffee  —  pours  down  Cajun 
throats  all  day  long,  and  the  coffee-pot  is  always  on  the  stove, 
hot  and  ready. 

Like  many  Cajuns,  Alastair  Foucheaux  deplores  the  develop- 
ment of  the  oil  industry  in  southern  Louisiana. 

'Me,  I'm  afraid  we  don't  get  no  more  oyster  soon,'  he  groaned. 
'  Why?  Them  oil  business  she  kill  all  the  oyster  in  the  bayous. 
You  know  them  machines  what  look  like  steeples  on  a  church? 
Derreeck?  I  don't  call  them  things  nothing  good,  me.  They 
spill  oil  all  over  the  bayous  and  kill  everything,  them.  M'sieu, 
they  is  crazy!  What  happen  we  have  no  more  oyster,  hein? 
Then  maybe  we  have  no  more  shrimps  and  no  more  crab,  how, we 
gon'  make  gumbo  or  jambalaya?  And  if  we  don't  have  no  more 
gumbo  and  no  more  jambalaya,  what  hell  Cajun  gon'  eat  that's 
any  good,  hein?  Oh,  M'sieu,  $a  cest  awful!' 

It  has  been  said  that  Cajun  Heaven  is  'gumbo,  go-go  and 
do-do!' 

Occasionally  a  Cajun  will  go  on  'one  beeg  Bambache,'  a 
drinking  spree.  'Mine  friend,'  said  Paul  Dada,  'it  just  happen, 
that's  all.  We  get  in  our  boats  and  all  of  a  sudden,  us,  we  find 
ourselves  thinking  life  ain't  nothing  to  a  mans  without  womens 
and  wine.  We  sit  and  think  a  while,  then  one  of  us,  he  say 
"This  boat,  she  ain't  actin'  right,  Paul.  I  think  maybe  she  need 
a  new  spark  plug. ' '  They  everybody  say  he  think  so  too.  Before 
you  can  say  "boo"  we  is  going  back  up  that  old  river  to  the 
town,  us. 


204  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

'  We  stay  in  town  maybe  Friday,  maybe  Saturday,  maybe  Sun- 
day. Those  bambache  is  bad.  Me,  I  always  have  head  like  one  big 
barrel.' 

Cajuns,  in  their  own  way,  make  good  husbands,  so  long  as 
their  wives  behave.  A  visitor  in  a  Cajun  home  where  a  young 
couple  lived  with  the  husband's  parents  was  astonished  to  hear 
blows  and  screams  from  a  room  into  which  the  young  couple  had 
just  entered.  The  door  flew  open  and  the  young  wife  ran  out  of 
the  house  with  a  great  bump  on  her  forehead.  The  boy's  mother 
turned  to  her  husband  and  complained: '  Charles  Alex  is  bad,  yes. 
He  should  not  hit  Lulu  like  that.  You  would  not  do  that  to  me, 
you.' 

The  older  man  took  his  pipe  out  of  his  mouth  and  said  quietly : 
'  I  never  had  no  reason  for  to  hit  you.  But  if  Charles  Alex  did  not 
beat  hell  out  of  that  womans  he's  got  once  in  a  while  there 
would  be  nothing  he  could  do  with  her.' 

Then  the  mother  turned  to  the  visitor  and  explained  gently, 
'Outside  of  these  little  things  them  two  children  love  them- 
selves plenty  and  get  along  fine.' 

The  Cajun  is  shrewd  and  often  clever  at  outwitting  the  'for- 
eigners' trespassing  in  his  bayou  land.  Apparently  his  motives 
are  mixed,  on  one  hand  the  fun  of  proving  himself  smarter  than 
the  city  stranger,  on  the  other  the  opportunity  of  financial  gain. 

Two  New  Orleans  men  drove  through  a  Louisiana  storm  to- 
ward Vacherie,  Louisiana.  Lightning  flashed,  thunder  roared, 
rain  came  down  in  glittering  sheets.  Suddenly  the  automobile 
groaned  and  sank  axle-deep  in  a  mudhole.  To  make  matters 
worse,  the  storm  abated  within  a  few  minutes,  the  clouds  van- 
ished and  a  mockingly  cheery  sun  beamed  down  on  the  wet 
world.  Just  at  that  time  a  team  of  animals  appeared,  a  horse  and 
a  mule,  harnessed  for  pulling.  And  on  the  back  of  the  mule  rode 
a  Negro,  and  on  the  back  of  the  horse  straddled  a  Cajun. 

The  white  man  dismounted  and  approached  the  driver  of  the 
car.  'Hello!'  he  said  brightly.  'I  am  Paul  Auzot  (pronounced 
O-zoo).  Me,  I  live  on  farm  up  way  a  little  bit.  This  here  is 
Etienne.'  The  Negro  grinned.  Paul  Auzot  examined  the  wheels 
of  the  car.  '  Uh  huh,'  he  mumbled.  '  Uh  huh.  You  is  stuck  good, 
yes.  If  you  had  sense  to  pull  over  'bout  two  inches  you  would 


The  Cajuns  —  205 

not  be  in  here.  But  there  is  worse  hole  farther  on,  so  maybe  it  is 
just  as  good  you  get  in  this  one.  'Course  you  is  city  fellow  and 
you  don't  know  damn  thing  anyway.' 

'Listen,  Mr.  O-zoo,'  said  the  city  fellow,  'how  about  letting 
up  on  the  sermon  and  pulling  us  out  of  here?' 

'Mr.  O-zoo'  looked  at  Etienne.  'Leesten  him,'  he  chuckled. 
'  He  don't  like  to  talk,  no.  M'sieu,  if  you  was  talk  a  little  'fore 
you  come  out  here  you  would  not  be  in  there,  and  you  would 
have  save  five  dollars  she  gon'  cost  you  to  get  out,  hein?  If  you 
was  talk  a  little  and  first  ask  about  this  road  you  would  be 
smart,  yes.' 

The  driver  tried  to  be  hard-boiled.  'Look  here,'  he  said. 
'That's  enough.  All  I  want  you  to  do  is  to  get  me  out  of  this 
mudhole.  And,  by  the  way,'  he  added  suspiciously,  'there's 
something  very  peculiar  about  the  way  you  and  your  friend  there 
came  along  here  all  harnessed  up.' 

Auzot  laughed.  'Is  nothing  funny,  m'sieu.  Is  business,  yes. 
And  it  cost  you  five  dollar.' 

'That's  too  much,'  the  driver  snorted. 

'  Five  dollar  is  what  I  charge,'  said  the  Cajun.  '  You  want  me 
and  Etienne  take  a  little  ride?  Is  another  car  stuck  farther  down 
this  same  road.' 

'No.   No,'  groaned  the  victim.    'Get  to  work.  Just  shut  up!' 

'Hokay!  Hokay!'  The  Cajun  turned  to  Etienne.  'Now, 
Etienne,  first  we  hitch  car  and  pull  her  to  bridge,  hein?  Then  we 
is  turn  on  bridge  'til  nose  she  points  to  Vacherie.' 

An  elaborate  procedure  followed.  Auzot  mounted  the  horse, 
and  Etienne,  to  its  occupants'  amazement,  straddled  the  hood  of 
the  automobile,  holding  fast  to  the  harness.  With  much  wheez- 
ing and  chugging,  the  car  pulled  out  of  the  mudhole  and  slowly 
began  to  approach  the  bridge.  Suddenly,  there  was  a  loud 
'Ouch!'  from  Etienne  and  he  seemed  unable  to  keep  his  seat. 

Paul  turned  and  laughed  at  him.  '  Well,  of  all  damn  fools  you 
is  wors*  borique  in  whole  world!'  he  chuckled.  'If  you  ain't  got 
no  more  sense  than  to  sit  your  gogo  on  hot  engine  you  ought  to 
get  burned  good,  yes.' 

fitienne  jumped  off  and  walked  the  rest  of  the  way. 

At  the  bridge,  Paul  accepted  the  five  dollars  from  the  driver. 


2  o  6  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

'  I  do  good  job,  hein?'  he  asked  proudly.  '  You  see,  me,  I  got  one 
horse  and  one  mule  for  team.  I  keep  mule  to  pull  and  horse  for 
his  brains.  Adieu,  monsieur.  We  see  you  again  sometime,  hein?' 

'Look  here,'  asked  the  driver,  'is  that  your  land  there?' 

'Yes,  monsieur,  on  that  side  of  bridge,'  Paul  admitted. 

'Is  that  road  yours?' 

'Yes,  monsieur,'  Paul  again  admitted.  But  by  this  time  both 
he  and  Etienne  were  mounted  on  their  steeds. 

'And  this  road  I'm  going  to  use,'  asked  the  motorist  with  a 
final  sigh,  '  does  it  belong  to  you  too?' 

' Oh,  no,  monsieur,'  answered  Paul  cheerfully.  ' That  road  she 
belong  to  Joe  Serpas.  And  you  don't  need  to  worry  about 
nothin'  like  holes  in  his  road.  That  Joe  Serpas  he  ain't  got 
sense  enough  to  see  that  his  roads  got  holes.  He  ain't  smart  like 
me,  no.  Adieu,  monsieur!' 

A  Cajun  is  proud  of  his  race,  his  family,  his  strength,  his 
prowess  as  a  hunter,  fisherman,  fighter  or  lover,  and  he  boasts  of 
any  or  all  of  these  with  a  childish  lack  of  restraint.  A  Cajun  told 
a  friend:  'I  am  a  true  man,  me.  I  got  credit  at  Fisher  Store;  I  got 
a  share  in  my  boat;  and  I  make  fourteen  children  for  my  wife.' 

Tell  a  Cajun  woman  that  she  is  beautiful  and  she  will  shrug 
her  shoulders  and  say,  with  a  roll  of  her  dark  eyes, 

'You  is  tell  me  something  what  I  is  already  know!' 


Chapter  10 


The  Temple  of  Innocent  Blood 


ON  THE  OUTSKIRTS  OF  NEW  ORLEANS,  NEAR  COF- 
fin  Avenue,  is  the  jumble  of  decaying  frame  buildings  which 
comprised  the  foundation  of  Mother  Catherine  Seals.  Pigs  wal- 
low in  the  '  baptismal  pool*  and  snuffle  about  the  huge  misshapen 
feet  of  her  'Jehovah  God,'  chickens  are  busy  in  her  'Temple.' 
'Saint  Michael,  the  Archangel,'  surveys  the  fowl  with  a  look  of 
studious  appreciation  as  a  dropping  is  gaily  deposited  on  the 
slain  serpent  at  his  feet. 

Although  the  spirits  appointed  Mother  Rita  to  be  Mother 
Catherine's  successor  in  the  Temple  of  Innocent  Blood,  they  have 
practically  abandoned  her.  Or  perhaps  she  has  simply  forgotten 
how  to  summon  them  —  for  she  is  old  and  confused,  and  the 
spirits  like  a  priestess  with  some  get-up.  No  use  trying  to  ani- 
mate the  shriveled  body  of  Mother  Rita.  So  the  services  are  now 
little  more  than  a  memorial.  A  handful  gathers  to  survey  the 
relics  and  to  brood  on  the  greatness  of  the  departed  leader,  there 
is  a  little  singing  and  praying,  but  no  one  lingers  long  amid  the 
dust  and  clutter.  It  is  a  relief  to  get  back  to  the  streets  and  the 
reassuring  clamor  of  life. 

Mother  Catherine  originally  planned  the  building  known  as 


20 8  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

the  Temple  of  Innocent  Blood  as  a  hospital  and  refuge  for  preg- 
nant unmarried  women.  It  had  been  her  object  to  prevent  abor- 
tions —  'the  shedding  of  innocent  blood'  —  to  give  the  needy 
mothers  care,  and  to  place  the  infants  in  institutions.  However, 
she  was  unable  to  complete  the  structure,  so  it  was  converted 
into  a  temple  after  the  church  burned  down.  A  layer  of  shells 
serves  as  a  floor,  and  tattered  canvas  hanging  from  the  beams 
indicates  that  blinds  once  protected  the  interior. 

The  cylindrical  object  above  the  altar,  Mother  Rita  explains, 
is  the  '  Key  of  the  World. '  Mother  Catherine  made  it  shortly  be- 
fore she  died,  and  no  one  knows  what  it  means,  but  it  is  a  holy 
symbol  formed  according  to  the  instructions  of  the  spirits.  All 
that  Mother  Rita  remembers  is  that  soil,  salt  and  herbs  were 
mixed  in  the  composition.  Most  of  the  inscriptions  on  the  brown 
reptilian  body  of  the  Key  have  been  effaced,  but  still  discernible 
are  the  words  'Rice,  sugar,  salt,'  'My  Jehovia'  and  other  ex- 
pressions. The  four  voodoo  faces  at  the  ring,  or  top  end  of  the 
Key,  would  seem  to  offer  a  sufficient  explanation  of  its  inspira- 
tion. The  four  faces  gaze  indifferently  over  the  dusty  heads  of  the 
'saints'  busy  with  their  exhortations,  blessings  and  devotions; 
their  reptilian  body  rears  positively  above  the  cobwebbed  nega- 
tions teetering  uncertainly  on  the  shells  below. 

Most  of  the  Catholic  images,  vessels,  etc.  were  gifts  from  those 
Mother  Catherine  is  supposed  to  have  healed.  Among  the  jum- 
ble is  a  large  statue  of  Saint  Benedict  d' Amour.  This  was  given 
by  a  white  man,  who,  because  his  name  was  unfamiliar  to  the 
colored  congregation,  was  known  by  the  name  of  the  statue  he 
donated.  One  is  startled  by  seeing  valuable  reproductions  in 
bronze  and  among  the  life-sized  statues  are  several  similar  to 
those  seen  in  cathedrals.  Remnants  of  sacred  vestments  hang 
carelessly  from  poles  nailed  to  cross  beams,  while  more  molder  in 
drawers  and  cupboards.  Galvanized  tubs  which  were  used  to 
hold  food  during  feast  times  are  lettered  in  red  with  the  follow- 
ing inscription :  '  The  blessing  of  Sweet  Jesus,  and  Sacred  Heart 
(represented  by  heart-shaped  device).  The  Blessing  Jehova 
handed  down  to  Mother  Seal.' 

There  is  a  stair  leading  to  a  balcony,  or  choir  loft.  Two  or 
three  hundred  kerosene  lamps  stand  about  the  floor.  The  large 


The  Tern  fie  of  Innocent  Blood  —  2  o  p 

blanket-covered  objects  are  band  instruments.  On  a  table  is  an 
enormous  brass  trumpet;  on  the  floor  are  the  drums:  a  tom-tom, 
bass  and  kettle  drums.  An  automatic  piano  stands  in  the  center, 
accompanied  by  a  rack  of  rolls.  The  throb  and  beat  of  the  Congo, 
the  blare  of  Harlem,  the  torchlit  ceremonies  of  Haiti,  flash  by  as 
one  touches  the  brooding  alien  head  of  the  tom-tom  and  the  cold 
impassive  brass  of  the  great  horn. 

Down  there  among  the  dust-laden  pews  lie  the  forgotten  fig- 
ures of  a  creche  —  little  Jesus  and  his  mother  and  a  few  decrepit 
ovines.  It  is  a  wonder  that  they  have  survived  so  long,  but  per- 
haps Mother  Rita's  grandchildren  do  not  find  them  very  inter- 
esting. Mother  Rita  has  half  a  dozen  grandchildren  living  in  the 
ramshackle  abode  adjacent  to  the  'Temple.'  They  are  friendly, 
happy  young  ones,  and  reasonably  may  be  supposed  to  have 
little  fear  of  retribution  from  'Jehovah  God,'  for  he  has  been 
standing  at  their  front  door  for  a  long  time.  Mother  Catherine 
made  him  in  April,  19x7.  It  took  her  only  fourteen  days:  the 
inscription  on  the  base  says,  'Started  April  i6th  192.7,  finished 
April  3oth  192.7.'  There  must  be  few  statues  more  hideous  than 
Mother  Catherine's  'Jehovah  God'  as  he  stands  there  in  mon- 
strous decrepitude  in  phe  pig  yard. 

Mother  Catherine  founded  her  cult,  the  forerunner  of  many 
'spiritualist'  churches  among  the  Negroes  in  New  Orleans,  in 
192.2..  She  had  suffered  a  paralytic  stroke,  and  a  white  'healer' 
whose  services  she  had  solicited  had  refused  to  cure  her  because 
of  her  color.  Right  then  she  resolved  to  pray  herself  into  a  state 
of  grace  and  good  health.  A  spirit  told  her  that  her  prayers 
would  be  answered  and  suggested  that  she  found  a  religion  of  her 
own  as  soon  as  she  was  able. 

Mother  Catherine  set  about  her  task  without  money  and  with- 
out followers.  She  chose  a  tract  out  by  the  Industrial  Canal,  and 
in  some  way  was  able  to  secure  the  services  of  the  builders  who 
erected  her  first  temple  and  residence. 

She  became  known  as  a  healer.  Soon  she  had  many  followers, 
and  gifts  from  grateful  devotees  made  possible  the  furnishing  of 
her  church.  Flags  of  the  Sacred  Heart,  Jehovah  and  the  Innocent 
Blood  flew  from  atop  her  building,  and  the  interior  became 
crowded  with  holy  pictures,  statues  and  altars;  five  hundred  oil 


2  io  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

lamps  burned  constantly.  She  cured  by  'layin*  on  ob  hands  an' 
anointin'  dere  innards'  with  a  full  tumbler  of  warm  castor  oil, 
followed  by  a  quarter  of  a  lemon  to  kill  the  taste.  '  You  gotta  do 
as  I  says  if  you  wants  to  be  healed  an'  blessed,'  she  told  those 
who  objected. 

Mother  Catherine  always  entered  the  church  through  a  hole 
in  the  roof  of  a  side  room,  intimating  that  she  was  sent  down 
from  Heaven  to  preach  the  gospel.  She  had  no  particular  uni- 
form. The  Lord  told  her  what  to  wear.  Often  it  was  an  ample 
white  robe  and  nun-like  headdress.  About  her  waist  she  always 
wore  the  blue  cord  of  power  and  purity,  and  from  it  dangled  a 
large  key.  Members  were  permitted  to  kneel  at  her  feet  and 
make  wishes  as  they  kissed  this  key.  She  wore  no  shoes  on  her 
grotesquely  large  feet,  saying  that  'de  Lawd  went  widout 
shoes.' 

Because  of  her  illiteracy  the  High  Priestess  did  not  bother  with 
the  Bible.  She  told  her  congregation  that  she  read  her  Bible  all 
the  time,  and  remembered  everything  in  it.  '  Ah's  gonna  gib  ya 
facts,'  she  would  say. 

After  her  sermon  there  would  be  singing,  and  then  healing. 
If  the  candidate  for  healing  did  not  respond  to  her  treatment, 
someone  would  say,  'Sumpin's  wrong  wid  him.  Boy,  clean  yo' 
soul  'fo'  de  debbil  gits  ya  too  much.'  The  lame  were  sometimes 
whipped  with  a  wet  towel,  and  told  to  run  out  of  the  church. 
The  blind  were  treated  with  rainwater,  or  in  stubborn  cases 
Mother  Catherine  'called  lightnin'  right  down  from  Hebben'  to 
clear  the  clouded  visions  of  her  patients. 

Mother  Rita's  memories  of  the  great  teacher  and  healer  are 
growing  shadowy,  but  she  will  relate  what  she  can  remember 
willingly  enough.  Mother  Catherine,  she  says,  was  born  near 
Lexington,  Kentucky.  She  never  went  to  school,  and  first  mar- 
ried at  the  age  of  seventeen.  The  two  children  born  of  this  union 
died  when  quite  small,  and  no  children  resulted  from  her  two 
subsequent  marriages.  As  she  was  unable  to  read,  her  teachings 
were  not  based  on  the  Bible;  all  her  inspiration  came  from  the 
'Holy  Spirit.' 

Two  weeks  before  her  death  she  was  confined  to  bed  by  illness. 
Her  plan  was  to  go  to  Niagara  Falls  for  her  health  as  soon 


The  Temple  of  Innocent  Blood  -211 

as  she  recovered  sufficiently.  But,  according  to  Mother  Rita,  the 
Good  Spirit  told  her  that  she  had  only  a  very  short  while  to  live. 
So  Mother  Catherine  left  her  bed  and  traveled  to  her  birthplace 
in  Kentucky,  where  she  died  August  9,  1930,  two  days  after  her 
arrival.  She  believed  that  she  would  be  resurrected.  '  Ah's  gonna 
sleep  while,  not  die.  De  great  God  Jehovia,  He's  callin'  me  to 
come  an'  rest  awhile.  But  on  de  third  day  Ah's  comin*  back; 
Ah's  gonna  rise  again.  Ah's  gonna  continue  ma  good  wuk.' 

Thousands  attended  the  funeral.  The  congregation  first  in- 
tended that  its  High  Priestess  should  be  buried  in  the  Temple, 
then  planned  a  tomb  near  the  building.  But  the  city  health 
officials  objected  and  Mother  Catherine  was  buried  in  the  Saint 
Vincent  de  Paul  Cemetery,  vault  number  144,  4th  tier. . 

On  warm  days  Mother  Rita  sits  beside  the  'Temple'  in  the  sun 
like  some  small  bronze  god,  hands  upturned  passively  in  her 
lap.  At  night  she  sleeps  amid  the  monumental  clutter  of  Mother 
Catherine's  old  room  at  the  rear  of  the  'Temple.'  Mother  Cath- 
erine prays  and  sings  with  her  every  night,  she  says,  but  never 
talks  about  the  church,  for  'Mother  Catherine's  wuk  is  done. 
She's  res  tin'.' 


Chapter  11 


The  Plantations 


TALES  OF  DEVASTATION  WROUGHT  BY  THE  FED- 
eral  troops  on  their  march  into  the  South  have,  with  the  pass- 
ing of  time,  been  blended  into  a  composite  picture  with  de- 
tails familiar  to  all.  The  traditional  pattern  of  events  preceding 
the  arrival  of  the  Northerners  is  equally  familiar,  as  are  also  the 
heroic  and  resourceful  attitudes  of  the  women  and  slaves  who 
faced  the  invaders.  Admirable  attitudes,  however,  rarely  pre- 
vailed against  the  needs  of  hungry  and  threadbare  troops,  and 
after  the  storm  had  passed  those  remaining  in  its  wake  usually 
found  themselves  bereft  of  every  movable  possession  except  those 
which  had  been  too  well  hidden  for  a  hasty  search  to  reveal. 
Sometimes,  it  is  said,  failure  to  produce  some  desired  valuable, 
or  too  haughty  a  manner  toward  the  conquerors,  provoked  the 
burning  of  a  mansion,  but  whether  or  not  this  occurred,  the  old 
life  of  the  home  departed  with  the  last  whisper  of  marching  feet 
—  Plenty  had  made  her  exit  from  the  scene,  and  Want  took  her 
place. 

It  is  of  the  Utopia  of  Before  the  War  that  old  Southerners 
speak.  It  was  here  and  it  is  gone.  The  best  of  all  possible  worlds 
existed  in  the  South  and  it  was  destroyed.  And,  truly,  if  merely 


The  Plantations 

a  part  of  this  remembered  grandeur  once  existed  in  reality,  Lou- 
isiana plantation  life  must  have  been  almost  paradisiacal. 

The  old  home  places  were  not  built  in  a  few  months  nor  even, 
in  some  cases,  in  a  few  years.  John  Hampden  Randolph,  builder 
and  original  owner  of  NOTTAWAY  (thirty-one  miles  south  of  Baton 
Rouge),  spent  four  years  in  selecting,  cutting  and  seasoning  the 
timbers  for  the  mansion  and  in  building  the  limekiln  for  the 
brickwork.  Completed,  Nottaway  was  a  fortress  calculated  to 
defy  the  attacks  of  time  and  shelter  a  dozen  generations  of  South- 
ern gentility  yet  unborn.  The  way  of  life  in  what  we  term  the 
Old  South  was  expected  by  those  who  lived  it  to  last  forever,  and 
two  generations  might  be  spent  erecting  and  furnishing  a  home 
which  was  destined  to  be  destroyed  in  a  few  hours  by  the  fire  of 
war. 

Another  such  mansion  was  that  of  Charles  Duralde,  a  legend 
now,  even  to  his  descendants  in  St.  Martin ville,  where  settled 
many  exiled  patricians  in  the  early  decades  of  the  past  century. 
Nothing  could  have  seemed  more  permanent  than  the  life  of  the 
Duralde  family  at  PINE  ALLEY.  The  Duralde  acres  numbered  in 
the  tens  of  thousands,  with  a  corresponding  number  of  slaves, 
and  the  Duralde  progeny  an  even  two  dozen  —  twelve  children 
from  each  of  his  two  wives. 

Rarely  equaled  in  pure  fantasy  is  the  story  of  preparations  for 
the  first  Duralde  wedding,  a  double  ceremony  at  which  two  of 
the  daughters  became  the  brides  of  prominent  members  of  St. 
Martin  ville  society.  While  such  stories  have  doubtless  gained 
with  retelling  through  the  years,  they  yet  seem  to  have  an  in- 
digenous quality  quite  in  keeping  with  the  spirit  of  the  times  in 
which  the  events  recorded  are  supposed  to  have  taken  place. 

It  is  told  that  for  the  occasion  of  his  daughters'  wedding 
Charles  Duralde  prepared  far  in  advance,  bringing  from  China  the 
strangest  shipment  ever  to  leave  the  shores  of  Cathay:  a  cargo  of 
spiders,  which  he  had  freed  in  Pine  Alley  to  spin  a  cloud  of  webs 
among  the  branches.  Then  slaves  sprinkled  the  webs  with  gold 
and  silver  dust,  and  through  this  blazing  corridor,  over  imported 
carpeting,  the  wedding  procession  wended  its  way  to  the  mag- 
nificent altar  which  had  been  erected  in  front  of  the  mansion. 
Food  and  wine  were  provided  for  two  thousand  guests,  and  the 
wedding  festivities  lasted  for  days. 


214  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

It  is  said  that  the  rooms  of  the  mansion  were  sprayed  each 
morning  with  costly  perfume;  that  he  and  his  family  bathed  in 
cologne  and  that  his  carriages  were  decorated  with  silver  and 
upholstered  with  cloth  of  gold.  Yet  Charles  Duralde  lived  to 
behold  the  ruin  of  all  that  he  held  dear.  He  served  with  his  sons 
and  grandsons  in  the  War  Between  the  States,  and  returned  to 
witness  the  dispersal  of  his  slaves,  the  raiding  of  his  mansion  and 
the  utter  destruction  of  his  personal  world.  Dying  a  few  years 
later,  he  hinted  that  a  large  part  of  his  fortune  was  somewhere 
buried  or  hidden  away  in  a  foreign  bank,  but  never  revealed  its 
location. 

The  slaves  never  returned  to  the  Duralde  plantation;  the  sugar 
mill  has  long  since  crumbled  to  ruin,  and  the  mansion,  decayed 
and  abandoned,  was  demolished  some  years  ago.  His  family 
scattered  far  and  wide,  nothing  remained  of  the  dynasty  of 
Charles  Duralde  save  a  few  fine  portraits  by  an  unknown  artist, 
and  these  were  lost  in  the  flood  of  192.7. 

Of  greater  prestige  and  wealth  even  than  Duralde  was  Gabriel 
(Valcour)  Aime,  known  as  the  'Louis  XIV  of  Louisiana.'  Ro- 
manticists may  stress  that  he  was  the  owner  of  'Le  Petit  Ver- 
sailles' —  so  called  because  the  elaborate  formal  gardens  of  THE 
REFINERY,  only  completed  after  twenty  years,  were  the  product 
of  the  genius  who  had  arranged  the  Garden  of  Versailles  —  but 
historians  are  more  apt  to  note  that  Valcour  Aime  was  the  first 
(1834)  to  refine  sugar  in  Louisiana. 

The  Refinery,  about  twenty  miles  south  of  the  present  town  of 
Donaldson ville,  was  really  a  vast  agricultural  experiment  station 
developed  to  the  fullest  state  of  self-sufficiency.  At  one  time 
Valcour  Aime  was  dining  with  a  friend  in  New  Orleans.  Both 
were  epicures,  and  as  they  fell  to  comparing  their  personal  chefs, 
then  to  speaking  of  the  distant  markets  from  which  costly  deli- 
cacies were  obtained,  Aime  said  to  his  friend: 

1  If  you  will  be  my  guest  at  my  home  in  St.  James,  I  will  prom- 
ise you  a  dinner  that  you  yourself  will  admit  is  perfect,  every 
item  of  which  will  come  from  my  own  plantation.' 

'Impossible,'  said  the  New  Orleans  epicure.  'I  do  not  doubt, 
my  friend,  that  you  can  supply  most  of  a  dinner  from  your  land, 
but  a  perfect  dinner  from  your  own  plantation,  that  is  impos- 
sible.' 


The  Plantations  —  21  $ 

'Do  you  care  to  wager  that  it  is  impossible,'  asked  Aime,  'and 
you  yourself,  on  your  word  of  honor,  to  be  the  judge?' 

'Ten  thousand  dollars,'  said  the  New  Orleans  man. 

'It  is  a  bet,'  said  Valcour  Aime. 

The  dinner  was  eaten  in  the  great  dining-hall  in  St.  James. 
There  had  been  terrapin,  shrimp  and  crabs,  snipe  and  quail, 
breasts  of  wild  duck,  vegetables,  salads,  fruits,  coffee  and  cigars, 
wines  and  a  liqueur  at  the  end. 

'What  say  you,  my  friend?'  questioned  Valcour  Aime. 

'The  dinner  is  perfect.  But  I  think  you  lose,'  answered  the 
epicure,  'for  no  man  can  supply  me  with  bananas,  coffee  and 
tobacco  grown  in  St.  James,  Valcour  Aime.' 

'Ah,  my  friend,  wait  a  moment,'  smiled  Aime.  He  ordered 
horses,  slaves  with  lanterns.  They  mounted  and  rode  out  on  the 
plantation,  where  the  planter  displayed  a  conservatory  covering 
plots  of  coffee  and  tobacco,  bananas  and  pineapples. 

The  master  of  '  Le  Petit  Versailles'  was  noted  for  his  princely 
hospitality  and  lavish  gestures.  When  the  future  king  of  France, 
Louis  Philippe,  was  entertained  at  The  Refinery,  it  is  said  that 
the  plates  and  platters  of  gold  from  which  His  Highness  had 
eaten  were  thrown  into  the  Mississippi. 

The  mansion,  built  in  1799,  appeared  to  be  in  traditional 
Louisiana  style,  with  eight  massive  columns  supporting  the 
front  galleries,  but  wings  extending  backward  enclosed  a  Span- 
ish-style patio.  The  floors  and  stairways  were  of  marble,  and 
secret  stairs  were  built  into  the  thick  walls. 

Though  the  mansion  burned  in  the  second  decade  of  the  pres- 
ent century,  the  remains  of  the  fort  from  which  cannon  boomed 
a  welcome  to  visitors  and  where  children  played  at  battle  with 
oranges  can  still  be  seen,  and  the  channel  of  the  '  river'  is  there, 
with  its  decaying  bridges  over  which  the  wild  vines  creep. 

Lafcadio  Hearn,  after  visiting  the  site  of  'Le  Petit  Versailles' 
—  once  the  classic  abode  of  white  gazelles,  peafowl,  and  kan- 
garoos —  described  it  as : 

A  garden  once  filled  with  every  known  variety  of  exotic 
trees,  with  all  species  of  fantastic  shrubs,  with  the  rarest  floral 
products  of  both  hemispheres  but  left  utterly  uncared  for  dur- 
ing a  generation,  so  that  the  groves  have  been  made  weird 


2i 6  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

with  hanging  moss  and  the  vines  have  degenerated  into  para- 
sites, and  richly  cultivated  oleanders  have  returned  to  their 
primitive  form 

One  of  the  earliest  plantations  of  which  we  have  record, 
MONTPLAISIR,  established  by  the  Chevalier  de  Pradel  in  1750  on 
the  west  bank  of  the  Mississippi  opposite  the  Place  d'Armes,  is 
described  by  George  C.  H.  Kernion  in  the  Louisiana  Quarterly. 
He  writes: 

The  Chevalier  had  reached  the  zenith  of  his  power.  From  a 
country  gentleman  he  had  become  a  'grand  Seigneur.'  Wealth, 
slaves,  a  plantation  in  the  country,  a  home  in  town  (in  whose 
romantic  garden  shaded  by  venerable  trees,  the  revolutionists 
La  Freniere,  Foucault,  Villere,  Noyan,  Mazan,  Milhet  and 
others  were  to  secretly  gather  in  1759  and  after  his  death,  to 
hatch  their  revolutionary  plot),  fine  clothes,  jewels,  social 
position  —  all  now  were  his.  But  one  thing  was  lacking  to 
make  his  happiness  complete.  It  was  a  chateau,  yes,  a  French 
chateau  like  those  he  had  known  in  his  beloved  Limousin, 
built  in  Louisiana,  near  New  Orleans,  where  he  could  spend 
the  last  years  of  his  life  in  peace  and  semi-regal  magnificence! 

The  act  of  sale  was  passed  in  France  during  the  year  1750, 
and  in  1751,  the  erection  of  the  fairy  palace,  which  was  not  to 
be  completed  before  1754,  was  started.  The  plans  provided  for 
a  main  building  one  hundred  and  six  feet  long  by  forty-eight 
feet  wide,  with  wide  galleries  whose  flooring  was  covered 
with  cloth,  running  about  its  four  sides.  It  had  a  gabled  roof 
and  wide  attic,  and  contained  a  large  dining-room,  parlor, 
numerous  bedrooms,  study,  laundry,  and  a  room  provided 
with  large  kettles  known  as  the  wax  room,  where  the  fruit  of 
the  'driers'  or  wax  trees  that  grew  on  the  place  was  to  be 
heated  in  order  to  extract  therefrom  wax  with  which  the 
Chevalier  was  to  manufacture  the  candles  which  he  later  ex- 
ported to  France  or  sold  in  the  colony.  The  main  house,  whose 
every  window  was  glassed,  was  elevated  from  the  ground,  and 
leading  to  the  main  entrance  was  an  imposing  flight  of  steps 
which  gave  the  edifice  an  imposing  appearance.  Montplaisir 
must  have  been  truly  a  marvel  for  its  day,  not  only  on  account 
of  its  architecture  but  also  on  account  of  its  interior  decora- 
tions and  the  beauty  of  the  furniture  that  embellished  it.  In 


The  Plantations  — 2/7 

the  letters  that  he  wrote  to  France  about  his  new  home,  the 
Chevalier  was  always  most  enthusiastic.  Everything  used  in 
its  construction  and  furnishing,  with  the  exception  of  brick 
and  lumber,  had  been  imported  from  France,  and  the  numerous 
invoices  which  still  exist  show  that  he  was  unsparing  in  mak- 
ing it  the  finest  home  in  the  colony 

Montplaisir,  with  its  stately  mansion  and  the  wonderful 
gardens  that  surrounded  it,  where  '  -parterres'  laid  out  in  the 
most  approved  French  style  were  resplendent  with  blooming 
flowers,  gladdened  the  now  aging  Chevalier's  heart,  and  its 
wide  expanse  dotted  with  indigo,  rice,  corn  and  vegetables, 
with  productive  orchards,  with  innumerable  'driers,'  and 
with  a  sawmill  and  a  brick  yard,  contributed  materially  in 
defraying  his  enormous  expenses. 

The  Chevalier  died  at  his  beloved  Montplaisir,  March  18, 
1764. 

AFTON  VILLA,  in  West  Feliciana  Parish,  is  a  forty-room  man- 
sion built  by  David  Barrow  in  1849,  anc^  sa^  to  ^ave  t>een  m°d- 
eled  after  a  villa  near  Tours,  France.  It  was  so  named  because 
Mary  Barrow,  daughter  of  the  owner  by  his  first  wife,  was  lo- 
cally famous  for  her  singing  of  '  Flow  Gently,  Sweet  Afton.'  At 
the  present  time  it  is  open  to  the  public. 

At  the  time  of  the  Northern  invasion  the  Union  Army  passed 
that  way,  and  the  officer  in  charge,  noticing  the  grandeur  of  the 
gateway,  ordered  his  men  to  enter  and  take  quarters  in  the 
house.  The  men,  noticing  the  design  of  the  gate  and  being  un- 
able to  see  any  trace  of  the  house  hidden  far  back  in  the  trees, 
refused  to  go  in,  declaring  that  such  an  entrance  led  only  to  a 
cemetery.  So  Afton  Villa,  as  it  is  now  called,  escaped  pillage. 

The  house  has  cathedral-like  Gothic  windows  with  stained 
glasses,  bat  demented  towers  with  cannon,  Moorish  galleries; 
but  while  it  is  of  hybrid  style  the  general  effect  is  pleasing.  A 
moat  was  once  contemplated,  but  fear  of  breeding  mosquitoes 
saved  the  mansion  from  having  a  portcullis  and  drawbridge. 

HARVEY'S  CASTLE  at  Harvey,  near  New  Orleans,  built  by  Cap- 
tain Harvey  for  his  bride,  was  a  home  of  quite  another  type. 
Though  it  was  constructed  in  ninety  days  on  a  wager,  and  the 
work  was  all  done  by  free  Negroes,  yet  when  it  was  demolished 


2 1 8  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

it  was  found  to  be  almost  as  solid  as  when  first  built.  Planned  by 
Harvey  and  his  contractor  without  other  assistance,  this  house 
displayed  the  current  influence  of  the  time,  the  writings  of  Sir 
Walter  Scott,  and  externally  was  much  like  the  old  State  Capitol 
in  Baton  Rouge  built  three  years  later. 

Each  of  its  three  stories  contained  ten  rooms,  and  the  ceilings 
on  all  floors  were  eighteen  feet  high.  Its  two  turrets  afforded  an 
unobstructed  view  of  the  river,  and  for  years  served  as  a  land- 
mark for  river  pilots.  Expensive  furnishings,  velvet  hangings 
and  oil  paintings  imported  from  abroad  embellished  the  interior, 
and  in  its  time  it  was  one  of  the  show  places  of  the  New  Orleans 
area.  Then  the  home  was  sold,  to  become  an  amusement  resort, 
then  a  cheap  tenement,  and  finally  an  abandoned  pile  which  was 
demolished  in  192.4. 

Deserving  of  more  than  passing  mention  is  GREENWOOD,  near 
St.  Francis ville,  whose  lands  were  originally  granted  by  the 
Spanish  Government  to  Oliver  Pollock,  the  merchant  who,  with 
the  assistance  of  young  Governor  Galvez,  financed  the  colonies 
to  the  amount  of  three  hundred  thousand  dollars  during  the 
American  Revolution  and  saved  the  Mississippi  Valley  from 
British  troops  advancing  from  the  north.  Pollock  sold  the 
plantation  to  the  Barrow  family,  and  the  plantation  house,  one 
hundred  feet  square,  with  Doric  columns,  was  built  by  William 
Ruffin  Barrow  in  1830.  The  paneled  cypress  doors  have  silver 
doorknobs  and  hinges. 

KENILWORTH,  about  twelve  miles  southeast  of  New  Orleans, 
was  originally  built,  in  1759,  as  a  blockhouse  or  fort,  and  remod- 
eled in  1800.  It  was  in  this  mansion  during  the  Bienvenue  tenure 
that  General  Beauregard  was  presented  with  a  golden  dress 
sword,  commemorating  his  brilliant  Mexican  campaign.  Kenil- 
worth  has  its  ghosts  —  a  headless  man  and  a  lady  in  white 
whose  footprints  are  said  to  be  visible  on  the  stairway  the 
morning  after  the  full  moon. 

Mention  should  also  be  made  of  the  SOLIS  PLANTATION,  which 
is  not  far  from  Kenilworth,  for  it  was  here  that  for  the  first  time 
in  America  sugar  was  granulated.  Solis,  a  refugee  from  Santo 
Domingo,  had  brought  with  him  a  small  wooden  sugar  mill 
with  which  he  made  unsuccessful  attempts  to  make  sugar.  In 


The  Plantations  — 219 

1791  his  holdings  were  bought  by  Antonio  Mendez,  who,  with 
the  aid  of  a  sugar-maker  from  Cuba  named  Morin,  was  at  last 
successful  in  inducing  granulation.  In  the  following  year 
Etienne  de  Bore,  having  procured  cane  from  Mendez,  hired 
Morin,  and  in  1795  produced  sugar  for  the  first  time  on  a  com- 
mercial scale. 

PARLANGE,  south  of  New  Roads,  is  now  a  national  monument 
to  the  Old  South,  selected  by  Secretary  of  the  Interior  Harold  A. 
Ickes  as  a  mansion  typifying  the  taste  and  tradition  of  the  days 
before  the  Civil  War. 

The  house  was  built  in  1750  on  a  land  grant  to  the  Marquis 
Vincent  de  Ternant,  and  the  plantation  has  descended  in  direct 
line  to  the  present  owners.  On  either  side  of  the  driveway  are 
octagonal  brick  pigeonniers,  and  the  house,  approached  through 
a  grove  of  live-oaks  and  pecans,  is  a  white,  green-shuttered, 
one-and-a-half-story  raised  cottage  of  cypress,  mud  and  moss 
construction.  The  furnishings  of  Parlange  include  rarities  in 
silver,  glass  and  porcelain,  and  many  fine  pieces  of  old  furniture. 
The  slave-made  implements  with  which  the  house  was  built 
have  been  preserved. 

During  the  War  Between  the  States  the  cash  assets  of  the  Ter- 
nant estate,  amounting  to  three  hundred  thousand  dollars,  were 
placed  in  metal  chests  and  buried,  and  not  one  of  these  has  ever 
been  found.  Parlange  served  as  headquarters  for  both  General 
Banks,  U.S.A.,  and  General  Dick  Taylor,  C.S.A.,  during  the  Red 
River  Campaign. 

Another  plantation  home  which  is  still  in  much  the  same  con- 
dition as  it  wtas  a  century  ago  is  THE  SHADOWS,  home  of  Weeks 
Hall,  in  New  Iberia,  where  five  generations  have  lived.  It  was 
built  in  1830  by  David  Weeks,  is  of  brick  fired  by  slave  labor,  and 
the  woodwork  is  Louisiana  cypress.  The  blinds  are  the  original 
ones,  unchanged  after  more  than  a  century  of  use. 

This  structure  is  one  of  the  most  photographed  homes  in 
Louisiana.  Eight  masonry  columns  of  the  Doric  order  adorn  the 
front,  and  above  are  three  attic  dormer  windows.  All  the  inte- 
rior woodwork  and  plaster  detail  is  the  original.  The  gardens 
are  famous  for  the  number,  size  and  beauty  of  their  camellias  and 
azaleas.  In  the  east  garden  is  a  clump  of  camellia  trees  planted 


220  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

when  the  house  was  built.  Nowhere  in  the  state  do  camellias 
flourish  better  than  in  New  Iberia,  to  which  these  natives  of 
China  were  brought  from  France. 

An  article  appearing  in  the  Times-Picayune  for  January  12., 
1930,  describing  the  house  and  grounds,  concludes: 

Aspidistra  fringes  both  sides  of  the  curved  paths  to  the 
street,  and  on  either  hand  azaleas  and  camellias  crowd  in  well- 
arranged  shrubbery  groups  with  oleanders  glowing  at  one 
corner  of  the  house  against  young  bamboo  lances;  yellow  but- 
terfly lilies  dappling  shrubbery  with  gold  and  here  and  there 
the  pink  filaments  of  tassel-like  flpwers  lifting . . .  mistily  over 
albizzia  mimosa  trees. 

Many  rare  plants  appear  among  those  which  fill  the  side 
gardens  and  encircle  the  ends  of  the  house.  ...  It  is  like  enter- 
ing Eden  from  a  village  street. 

OAK  ALLEY,  near  Donaldson ville,  built  in  1836  for  I.  T.  Ro- 
man, brother  of  Andre  Bienvenu  Roman,  Governor  of  Louisiana 
(1831-35;  1839-43),  is  one  of  the  most  magnificent  old  planta- 
rion  houses  now  to  be  seen  in  Louisiana.  It  is  of  plastered  brick, 
seventy  feet  square,  girdled  by  twenty-eight  Doric  columns 
each  eight  feet  in  circumference.  On  this  plantation,  it  is  said, 
the  first  successful  pecan  grafting  was  performed  by  a  slave  gar- 
dener. 

Adjoining  Oak  Alley  are  Saint  Joseph  and  Felicity  Planta- 
tions, wedding  presents  of  Valcour  Aime  to  two  of  his  daughters. 
Next  is  the  site  of  the  famous  'Little  Versailles.' 

Among  the  often  visited  homes  of  Louisiana,  some  are  noted 
because  of  having  been  the  homes  of  famous  people,  others  be- 
cause of  some  historical  event  with  which  they  are  connected, 
others  for  their  lassie  or  bizarre  architecture,  and  others  for 
some  single  feature. 

CARPENTER  HOUSE,  near  Delhi,  is  visited  because  Jesse  James 
once  shared  its  hospitality,  and  the  owner  proudly  exhibits  a 
bedspread  under  which  the  famous  bandit  is  said  to  have  slept. 
OAKLAWN  MANOR  has  a  bathtub  carved  from  a  single  block  of 
white  marble,  in  which  it  is  said  that  Henry  Clay  used  to  refresh 
himself.  The  walls  of  the  great  hall  of  LINWOOD,  and  other 
rooms,  were  originally  painted  to  represent  jungle  scenes.  Eliza 


The  Plantations  — 221 

Ripley,  in  her  Social  Life  of  Old  New  Orleans,  wrote  her  impres- 
sions thus: 

A  great  tiger  jumped  out  of  dense  thickets  toward  savages 
who  were  fleeing  in  terror.  Tall  trees  reached  to  the  ceiling, 
with  gaudily  striped  boa  constrictors  wound  about  their 
trunks;  hissing  snakes  peered  out  of  the  jungle;  birds  of  gay 
plumage,  paroquets,  parrots,  peacocks  everywhere,  some  way 
up,  almost  out  of  sight  in  the  greenery;  monkeys  swung  from 
limb  to  limb;  orang-outangs  and  lots  of  almost  naked  dark- 
skinned  natives  wandered  about.  To  cap  the  climax,  right 
close  to  the  steps  one  had  to  mount  to  the  floor  above  was  a 
lair  of  ferocious  lions. 

Though  good  taste  frequently  gave  way  to  whimsicality,  it 
would,  in  general,  be  difficult  to  exaggerate  the  magnificence  of 
these  establishments,  which  in  their  time  were  unrivaled  in  the 
New  World.  Northern  visitors  often  experienced  sympathetic 
pangs  after  viewing  the  remains  of  some  ransacked  and  vandal- 
ized abode.  Said  one,  in  the  New  Orleans  Democrat  of  June  19, 1877: 

My  principles  now  lead  me  to  abhor  slavery,  rejoice  in  its 
abolition,  yet  sometimes  in  the  heat  and  toil  of  the  struggle 
for  existence,  the  thought  involuntarily  steals  over  me  that 
we  have  seen  better  days.  I  think  of  the  wild  rides  after  the 
deer;  of  the  lolling,  the  book;  the  delicious  nap  on  the  gallery, 
in  the  summer  house;  of  the  long  sittings  at  meals,  and  the 
after-dinner  cigar  of  the  polished  groups  in  the  easy  but  viva- 
cious conversation  in  the  parlor;  of  the  chivalric  devotion  to 
beautiful  women,  of  the  clownish  antics  of  pickaninnies  when 
you  tossed  them  a  nickel,  how  they  screamed  for  the  rinds 
after  you  had  eaten  your  watermelon  on  the  piazza  in  the  after- 
noon, and  '  as  fond  recollection  presents  them  to  view'  I  feel 
the  intrusive  swelling  of  the  tear  of  regret. . . . 

The  food  and  the  social  life  of  the  days  '  Before  the  War'  were 
indeed  something  to  recollect.  Whole  families  often  went  vis- 
iting and  stayed  a  week  or  a  month,  and  to  entertain  and  feed 
fifty  guests  was  not  unusual.  A  midnight  snack  before  going  to 
bed  might  consist  of  a  dozen  items,  such  as  gumbo,  hot  meats, 
cold  meats,  salads,  galantines,  fruit,  cakes,  charlotte  russes, 


zzz  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

whipped  cream  garnished  with  red  cherries,  caramel,  sorbet  and 
ice  cream.  A  real  dinner  might  terminate  with  a  dozen  desserts. 

For  really  important  occasions  famous  chefs  were  brought  out 
to  the  plantations  from  New  Orleans,  perhaps  several  at  one 
time;  one  famed  for  his  sauces,  for  instance,  and  another  whose 
pastries  were  reputed  to  be  the  finest  in  the  State.  At  WALNUT 
GROVE  a  miniature  railroad  ran  from  the  kitchen  to  the  dining- 
room,  bringing  food  in  piping  hot,  and  also  testifying  to  the 
amount  of  edibles  served.  Over  these  groaning  tables  waved  the 
punkas,  operated  by  small  black  slaves,  in  exact  imitation  of  the 
lordly  customs  of  the  Far  East. 

The  plantation  bells,  used  to  summon  slaves  from  the  fields  and 
for  other  similar  purposes,  are  subjects  of  numerous  legends.  It  is 
said  that  Bernard  de  Marigny  tossed  one  thousand  Mexican  dol- 
lars into  the  cauldron  when  the  bell  for  his  estate  was  in  prepa- 
ration. The  completed  bell,  we  are  told,  possessed  the  purest  and 
most  delightful  of  tones.  But  like  'grandfather's  clock'  it  re- 
fused to  function  when  its  special  duty  was  at  an  end;  on  the  day 
of  freedom  its  fastenings  gave  way,  it  fell  to  the  ground  and 
was  cracked  beyond  repair.  Judah  P.  Benjamin  had  six  hundred 
dollars  melted  into  the  bell  at  BELLECHASSE.  The  ZACHARY 
TAYLOR  HOUSE  is  famous  for  the  same  reason,  the  President  hav- 
ing brought  back  many  dollars  from  the  Mexican  War  for  the 
express  purpose  of  creating  a  bell  for  his  plantation  with  as 
sweet  a  tone  as  possible. 

Every  plantation  had  a  name,  most  of  them  simple  and  chosen 
for  fairly  obvious  reasons.  A  glance  at  an  old  map  reveals  the 
existence  of  MAGNOLIA,  HOME  PLACE,  OAKLAND,  HARD  TIMES, 
REVELRY,  EXPERIMENT,  LAKESIDE,  WHITE  HALL,  SUGAR  LAND, 
NORTH  BEND,  CRESCENT,  RIVER  LAND,  LOCUST  GROVE,  OAK 
GROVE,  MYRTLE  GROVE,  WILLOW  GROVE,  SOUTHERN  RIGHTS, 
FORLORN  HOPE,  HARD  SCRAPPLE,  SPENDTHRIFT  and  FIFTH  WHEEL, 
and  many  others. 

Local  gossip  testifies  that  SPENDTHRIFT  was  so  named  because 
the  original  owner  of  the  estate  lost  it  to  another  man  during  a 
poker  game,  but  HARD  TIMES,  FORLORN  HOPE  and  FIFTH  WHEEL 
remain  mystifying  with  their  pessimistic  implications. 

Such  names  as  MAGNOLIA,  LOCUST  GROVE,  MYRTLE  GROVE  and 


The  Plantations  —  225 

WILLOW  GROVE  are,  of  course,  the  result  of  the  existence  of  a  par- 
ticular kind  of  tree  which  might  be  numerous  on  the  plantation. 
The  many  '  oak'  names,  such  as  THREE  OAKS,  TWIN  OAKS,  OAK- 
DALE,  THE  OAKS,  OAK  ALLEY,  LIVE-OAKS,  are  evidence  of  the 
profusion  of  oak  trees  in  Louisiana. 

Sir  Walter  Scott's  works  were  extremely  popular  throughout 
the  State,  probably  because  he  pictured  a  society  whose  mood 
was  much  the  same  as  that  of  the  South  during  the  period,  and 
many  a  plantation  was  christened  with  such  a  name  as  WOOD- 
STOCK, ROB  ROY,  MELROSE,  IVANHOE  and  KENILWORTH. 

Nostalgia  for  the  land  of  their  forefathers  may  have  prompted 
others  to  call  their  homes  VERSAILLES,  CHATEAU  DE  CLERY,  KENT, 
FONTAINEBLEAU  and  such  names.  AUSTERLITZ  PLANTATION  was, 
of  course,  so  called  in  honor  of  Napoleon's  victory  at  that  place. 

Some  of  these  remain;  many  are  gone.  All  suffered  change,  and 
bad  fortune  has,  at  one  time  or  another,  laid  its  depressing  hand 
on  every  one.  Evidences  which  verify  the  old  tales  of  indignities 
to  Southern  homes  and  properties  may  be  seen  to  this  day. 
Treasure  is  found  by  some  heir  three  or  four  generations  removed 
from  the  harassed  forebear  who  had  hastily  hidden  it.  Happily, 
among  all  the  stories  of  wanton  depredations  are  others,  difficult 
for  the  Southerner  to  understand,  but  readily  and  frankly  ad- 
mitted by  him  —  such  as  the  one  told  by  the  master  of  CRESCENT 
PLANTATION  HOUSE.  He  said  that  when  he  had  advised  the  Union 
soldiers  of  the  illness  of  his  wife,  they  not  only  refrained  from 
burning  the  mansion  or  disturbing  the  premises  in  any  way,  but 
the  officer  in  charge  bowed  sweepingly,  and  said :  '  Sir,  we  do  not 
murder  women.  I  bid  you  good  day!' 


Chapter  12 


The  Slaves 


ONE  OF  THE  LAST  SLAVE  SALES  WAS  ADVERTISED 
in  The  Bee,  a  New  Orleans  newspaper,  on  April  12.,  1862.,  in  this 
manner: 

COOK,  WASHER  and  IRONER  at  AUCTION 

by  N.  Virgie,  Auctioneer 

Saturday,  April  12.,  1861,  at  n  o'clock  M.,  will  be  at  the  Mer- 
chants and  Auctioneers  Exchange,  Royal  Street. 
Elizabeth,    a   Mulatto   girl,    aged   about   n   years  —  cook, 
washer,  ironer  and  house  servant  —  fully  guaranteed.    Terms 
cash. 

She  might  almost  have  been  Cecile  White,  who,  nearly  a  cen- 
tury old  in  1941,  remembered  being  sold  on  the  auction  block 
in  just  such  a  way. 

'I  was  borned  back  in  the  old  country,'  said  Cecile,  'in  South 
Carolina.  My  Marse  died,  and  me  and  my  ma  was  shipped  down 
the  river  to  this  heathen  land.  I  was  sold  right  at  the  French 
Market  in  New  Orleans.' 

The  first  black  slaves  were  brought  to  Louisiana  from  Mar- 
tinique, Guadeloupe  and  San .  Domingo,  five  hundred  being 
imported  in  1716  and  three  thousand  during  the  year  following. 
But  the  West  Indian  Negro  was  found  to  be  steeped  in  Voodoo- 
ism  and  of  a  rebellious,  troublesome  type,  and  soon  nearly  all 


The  Slaves  —  225 

slaves  were  being  brought  from  Africa.  Under  the  rule  of  Don 
Alexander  O'Reilly  admittance  of  slaves  from  the  Indies  was 
rigidly  forbidden,  and  after  the  American  acquisition  in  1804  a 
law  was  passed  prohibiting  entry  of  such  merchandise  from  any 
country;  only  those  brought  into  the  United  States  prior  to  1798 
were  to  be  admitted  to  Louisiana.  But  shiploads  of  contraband 
Negroes  continued  to  arrive,  and  free  Negroes  in  the  eastern  and 
northern  states  were  frequently  kidnapped  and  carried  down  to 
New  Orleans  to  be  sold  into  slavery.  Too,  slaves  bred  rapidly 
and  soon  there  were  two  distinct  types  on  the  market,  those 
from  the  jungles  and  the  Creole  Negroes,  those  born  in  Louisiana 
or  in  the  West  Indies. 

Slave  sales  were  advertised  almost  daily  in  the  newspapers  of 
the  era,  the  Blacks  being  classified  by  the  occupations  for  which 
they  were  best  suited,  such  as  field  hands,  washers,  or  cooks,  and 
later,  as  miscegenation  became  widespread,  according  to  approx- 
imate degree  of  Negro  blood,  as  mulatto,  griffe  or  quadroon. 
Attractive,  near-white  wenches  brought  the  highest  prices  of 
all,  frequently  being  purchased  by  wealthy  men  as  mistresses. 
The  Daily  Picayune,  in  1837,  gave  an  account  of  a  girl  'remark- 
able for  her  beauty  and  intelligence  who  sold  at  $7000  in  New 
Orleans';  and  the  New  York  Sun,  the  same  year,  describing  an- 
other auction  in  New  Orleans,  said,  'the  beautiful  Martha  was 
struck  off  at  $4500.' 

The  slave  mart  at  the  old  St.  Louis  Hotel  in  New  Orleans  was 
probably  the  most  famous  on  the  continent.  A  typical  notice 
of  a  sale  here,  appearing  in  The  Bee,  January  18,  1841,  was  as 
follows : 

AUCTION  SALE  BY  COURT  ORDER 
At  the  St.  Louis  Exchange,  between  Chartres  and  Royal  Sts. 
—  at  noon. 

Riley  —  about  2.8  years  old. 

Dick  —  about  34  years  old. 

Cook  —  about  30  years  old. 

Oliver  —  about  2.6  years  old. 

Marie,  negress  —  about  35  years  old. 

Marie  Anne  —  about  35  years  old. 

This  syndicate  is  not  responsible  for  the  characters  nor  vices 
of  the  slaves. 


226  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Slaves  increased  in  value  to  a  certain  age,  then  rapidly  de- 
creased. A  Negro  who  sold  at  twenty-nine  years  of  age  for 
$750  brought  $1000  at  forty,  but  probably  not  more  than  $400  at 
sixty. 

By  1850  there  were  145,000  slaves  in  Louisiana.  In  1860  there 
were  at  least  twenty-five  slave  marts  within  a  few  squares  of 
each  other  in  New  Orleans.  The  fruitfulness  of  the  Louisiana 
soil  and  the  proximity  of  the  port  of  New  Orleans  made  it  profit- 
able to  turn  all  cash  into  slaves  for  the  purpose  of  cultivating 
that  land,  with  the  result  that  slave  property  alone  ran  into 
millions  of  dollars.  The  year  1856  was  an  exceptionally  good 
one  for  slave  traders.  High  prices  were  being  paid  and  there  was 
considerable  money  in  circulation,  and  there  seems  to  have  been 
little  vision  of  the  rapidly  approaching  end  of  the  South 's  feudal 
aristocracy.  On  July  31,  1856,  the  Daily  Picayune  stated: 

There  has  been  a  greater  demand  for  slaves  in  this  city  during 
the  months  of  May,  June  and  July  than  ever  before,  and  they 
have  commanded  better  prices  during  that  time.  This  latter  is 
an  unusual  thing,  as  the  summer  months  are  generally  the 
dullest  in  the  year  for  that  description  of  property.  Prime 
field  hands  (women)  will  now  bring  $1000  to  $1100,  and  men 
from  $1150  to  $1500.  Not  long  since  a  likely  negro  girl  sold 
in  this  city  at  private  sale  for  $1700.  A  large  number  of  ne- 
groes are  bought  on  speculation,  and  probably  there  is  not  less 
than  $1,000,000  in  town  now  seeking  investment  in  such 
property. 

One  of  the  features  that  helped  make  New  Orleans  unique 
among  the  great  slave  markets  of  the  country  was  the  custom  of 
dressing  up  the  slaves  to  be  sold,  it  being  said  that  'nowhere 
else  in  the  South  did  the  promenade  attain  such  glory  as  in  New 
Orleans.  Some  of  the  traders  kept  a  big,  good-natured  buck  to 
lead  the  parade  (of  the  slaves  to  be  sold)  and  uniforms  for  both 
men  and  women,  so  that  the  high  hats,  the  riot  of  white,  pink, 
red  and  blue  would  attract  the  attention  of  prospective  buy- 
ers. .  .  .' 

The  following  notice  of  the  sale  of  a  slave,  quoted  here  from 
the  Louisiana  Historical  Quarterly  (Volume  10),  reaches  the  height 
of  callousness : 


The  Slaves  —227 

January  LI,  1741  —  Petition  to  sell  syphilitic  slave. 

Sale  of  Attorney  D'Ausseville  reports  that  the  negro 

Diseased  Slave    Hypolite  belonging  to  Constilhas  Estate  has 

At  close  of         been  disabled  for  past  eight  months  by  vene- 

High  Mass         real  disease  now  in  its  final  phase.    It  would 

On  Sunday          cost  a  round  sum  to  treat,  feed  and  lodge  him. 

Better  discount  his  remnant  value  to  heirs 

concerned  by  selling  next  Sunday  at  exit  of 

High  Mass  rather  than  incur  total  loss  of  him 

by  death. 

Judge  Salmon  assents  and  he  is  bought  by 
Francois  Seguier  for  1080  livres. 

There  is  a  friendly,  come-browse-around-no-obligations-to- 
buy  air  to  the  following  advertisement  which  appeared  Novem- 
ber 18,  1859,  m  t^le  Daily  Delta: 

NEGROES  FOR  SALE 

Just  arrived  with  a  large  lot  of  Virginia  and  Maryland 
Negroes,  which  I  offer  cheap  at  my  old  stand,  corner  of  Es- 
planade and  Chartres  Streets,  and  will  be  receiving  fresh  lots 
every  month  during  the  season.  Call  and  see  me  before  you 
purchase  elsewhere. 

JOSEPH  BRUIN 

The  Louisiana  Gazette ',  March  3,  1810,  offered: 

TO  BARTER 

For  Sugar,  Whiskey  or  Groceries  of  any  description,  several 
likely  Negroes  of  all  descriptions.  For  particulars  inquire  at 
the  American  Coffee  House  of 

JOHN  M.  EDNEY 

Slaves  were  essential  to  the  plantations,  and  as  planters  grew 
wealthier  the  numbers  of  their  slaves  increased  accordingly. 
John  McDonogh  owned  three  hundred  slaves,  Julien  Poydras 
nearly  five  hundred,  and  many  others  owned  even  more.  Planta- 
tions such  as  Chatsworth,  with  fifty  rooms,  and  Belle  Grove, 
with  seventy-five,  gave  occupations  to  numerous  house  servants, 
while  their  vast  acreages  required  small  armies  of  field  hands. 


228 —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Business  corporations  were  large  slave  holders.  The  early 
railroad  and  gas  companies  in  Louisiana  maintained  crews  of 
Negroes  for  the  laying  of  tracks,  mains  and  for  other  sorts  of 
labor.  The  first  gas  plant  in  New  Orleans,  built  in  1834-35  by 
Caldwell,  on  the  square  bounded  by  Perdido,  Gravier,  Magnolia, 
and  Robertson  Streets  (the  latter  two  then  called  St.  Marc  and 
St.  Marie),  possessed  a  brick  wall,  one  section  of  which  en- 
closed living  quarters  for  the  slaves,  wherein  they  were  shut 
when  not  working.  When  business  took  a  slump,  the  manage- 
ment of  the  New  Orleans  &  Central  Railroad  stepped  from  under 
by  leasing  its  slaves  to  Harper  and  Merrick,  along  with  the  bal- 
ance of  its  assets.  Two  slaves  with  notable  names,  'America' 
and  'John  Bull/  were  sold  at  the  board's  order.  A  Doctor  Carter 
of  Carrollton  was  given  free  transportation  in  1842,  on  the  rail- 
road's cars  'for  services  to  the  slaves  of  the  company.' 

Pending  their  disposal,  slaves  were  held  in  barracoons,  es- 
pecially assigned  quarters,  not  peculiar  to  Louisiana,  since  they 
existed  even  in  Washington.  Many  persons  carried  on  a  business 
of  training  Negroes,  then  selling  them,  even  renting  them  to 
people  who  could  not  afford  to  buy.  In  the  service  of  caterers, 
blacksmiths,  carpenters  and  tradesmen  of  various  sorts,  slaves 
became  proficient  in  many  lines  of  work,  thus  selling  —  or 
renting  —  at  better  prices  than  as  unskilled  labor  or  as  field 
hands.  There  were  frequent  advertisements  such  as  this,  from 
the  Louisiana  Gazette,  December  10,  1805: 

WANTED  TO  HIRE 

A  Steady  active  Negro  Woman,  for  the  purpose  of  cooking  and 
washing,  for  Three  Steady  Bachelors!!!  —  Enquire  of  the  Editor. 

And  if  that  one  has  a  mysteriously  humorous  implication,  it 
was  surpassed  by  a  paragraph  in  The  Bee,  June  2.4,  1835 
stated  simply: 

The  mayor  has  been  singularly  censured  for  refusing  to  allot 
6  negresses  to  each  of  the  8  commissaries  of  police;  although 
not  more  than  6  are  at  his  disposal.  Our  worthy  mayor  cannot 
increase  and  multiply  negro  wenches  for  the  Alderman  to  dis- 
pose of  ad  libitum. 


The  Slaves  —  229 

The  Counter ',  July  16,  1830,  suggested  another  means  of  dis- 
posing of  slaves,  with: 

NOTICE 

The  Lottery  of  a  Negress,  made  by  Mr.  Joseph  Santo  Domingo, 
will  be  drawn  To-Morrow  at  6  o'clock,  P.M.  at  the  office  of 
Judge  Preval.  Persons  who  have  not  paid  for  their  tickets,  are 
requested  to  do  so,  either  in  cash  or  in  bonds,  as  the  tickets 
which  shall  not  be  paid,  shall  be  disposed  of. 

Though  slavery  in  the  South  is  usually  interpreted  as  meaning 
white  persons  owning  Negroes,  the  United  States  Census  of 
1838  showed  that  3777  free  Negroes  owned  slaves  throughout 
the  nation.  In  Louisiana  many  prosperous  free  people  of  color 
purchased  Negroes  to  serve  as  house  servants  or  field  hands. 
Occasionally,  it  is  said,  a  free  woman  of  color  bought  a  slave 
out  of  pity  for  the  creature's  plight  and  out  of  racial  sympathy, 
but  in  general  the  Negro  master  of  other  Negroes  is  reputed  to 
have  been  the  sternest  of  all  slave  owners . 

Much  of  the  existing  information  regarding  slave  life  on  the 
plantations  is  stored  in  the  aging  minds  of  those  few  still  living 
ex-slaves.  Martha  Jackson,  who  celebrated  her  one  hundredth 
birthday  in  1936,  told  this  story  of  life  'before  the  wah': 

'  We  lived  good,'  Martha  said.  ' Don't  never  think  we  didn't. 
My  white  folkses  was  never  mean  or  crabbish,  and  our  boss  man 
never  did  'low  nobody  to  mess  wit'  his  slabes.  He  never  did 
whop  us .  He  called  us  ' '  his  niggers, ' '  and  the  slabes  on  the  plan- 
tation next  door  used  to  call  us  Mr.  Cook's  "free  niggers."  They 
was  jest  jealous,  'cause  they  got  whopped  and  they  didn't  have 
nothin'  like  we  did. 

'Our  boss  man  let  us  have  our  church  and  our  'sociation. 
Twice  a  year  he  give  us  new  clothes,  at  Christmas  time  and  in 
July.  Us  used  to  sing  when  we  worked  and  nobody  said  nothing. 
Us  raised  our  own  chickens  and  us  had  our  vegetable  patches, 
and  'sides  the  boss  man  give  us  sugar,  flour,  eggs,  salt  pork  and 
stuff  like  that.  When  a  woman  had  a  baby  she  got  lots  of  cotton 
to  make  quilts.  And  when  the  white  folkses  up  at  the  Big  House 
had  a  big  dinner  or  a  ball,  they  sent  down  all  the  food  lef  over 
and  'vided  it  'mong  us  niggers.  If  a  slabe  got  married  like  on 


230  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Saturday,  the  boss  man  get  everybody  together  and  we  have  a 
big  feast  and  a  dance/ 

Bongy  Jackson,  eighty-five  in  1939,  remembered  his  childhood 
as  a  slave,  and  recalled,  '  We  got  milk  and  bread  for  breakfast, 
bread,  greens,  pot  licker  and  peas  for  dinner,  and  bread,  milk  and 
'lasses  for  supper.  We  had  clean  beds  with  plenty  of  fresh  sheets 
and  pillowcases.  My  old  Marse  was  so  kindhearted  he  wouldn't 
hardly  whip  the  niggers  hisself.  He  used  to  call  in  the  overseer 
from  the  plantation  next  door  to  do  it.' 

'Marster  and  Mistress  even  nursed  us  when  we  was  sick,'  Jim 
Booker  declared.  '  We  had  good  food  and  our  own  patch  where 
we  could  raise  things  for  ourselves.  Some  of  them  niggers  even 
raised  cotton  for  themselves.  I  knew  one  what  raised  enough 
working  in  the  moonlight  at  night  to  make  a  whole  bale.  He 
sold  it  and  Marster  even  let  him  keep  the  money.  Sometimes  I 
thunk  I  wanted  to  be  free,  but  I  got  more  to  eat  then  than  I  do 
now.' 

Slaves  had  various  ways  of  addressing  their  owners.  Creole 
slaves,  speaking  a  French  patois,  called  their  master  Maitre  or 
Msieu  Jean  —  or  whatever  his  first  name  happened  to  be.  The 
mistress  was  Mattress,  Madame  or  Mam\elle,  or  one  of  those 
titles  and  a  first  name.  In  families  where  there  were  several  mar- 
ried sons,  the  wives  would  be  addressed  with  one  of  those  titles 
and  their  husbands'  given  names,  such  as  Madame  Jean  or  Madame 
Jules.  English-speaking  slaves  used  such  terms  as  Massa,  Mars- 
ter or  Marse  when  addressing  their  owner.  The  mistress  up  at 
the  Big  House  was  usually  Ole  Miss  or  Missy.  If  there  were  two 
ladies,  a  mother  and  a  daughter,  for  instance,  they  were  Ole  Miss 
and  Young  Miss,  but  it  was  always  Ole  Miss  if  there  were  but 
one,  regardless  of  her  age.  And,  if  two,  Young  Miss  remained 
Young  Miss  until  she  was  old  and  whiteh aired,  so  long  as  Ole 
Miss  were  still  alive.  The  slaves  frequently  assumed  the  sur- 
name of  their  first  owner,  and  retained  it  when  sold  and  resold 
to  other  planters. 

Each  plantation  had  its  own  laws  and  work  regulations.  On 
a  few  places  the  slaves  were  set  to  shucking  corn,  or  some  other 
light  chore  on  Saturdays  and  Sundays,  but  on  most  estates  the 
two  days  were  holidays  for  the  Negroes.  On  the  Sabbath,  they 


The  Slaves  —  231 

would  garb  themselves  in  their  most  prized  finery  and  go  to 
church .  Many  planters  insisted  on  their  human  property  attend- 
ing to  its  religious  duties. 

'Our  master  better  not  catch  us  missin'  church,'  said  ex-slave 
Catherine  Cornelius.  'Saturday  was  the  day  we  did  our  own 
washin',  scwin',  and  cleaned  up  our  cabins.  If  we  was  finished 
our  tasks  ahead  of  time  we  was  free  for  the  rest  of  the  day.  At 
Christmas  time  we  got  a  week's  holiday,  but  all  slaves  didn't 
get  what  we  did.  Doctor  Lyle  was  good  to  us.  At  Christmas 
he  always  gived  us  presents  and  money.' 

Francis  Doby  remembered  New  Year's  Day  on  the  plantation 
where  she  spent  her  childhood. 

'On  Christmas  each  little  nigger  hung  his  stockin'  on  the 
mantel  in  the  Big  House  and  he  got  a  piece  of  peppermint,  two 
candy  hearts  wit'  writin'  on  'em  and  a  .blueback  spellin'  book; 
but  New  Year's  Day  was  the  day  we  liked. 

'On  the  mornin'  of  that  day  the  Massa,  he  stand  on  his  gallery 
and  wit'  a  big  trumpet  he  make  noise  like,  "Ta  ratata,  ta 
ratata,"  and  all  us  little  coons  come  runnin'.  Then  he  give  us 
picayunes.  'Course  we  don't  know  nothin'  'bout  picayunes, 
and  there  ain't  no  place  to  spend  money  on  the  plantation.  All 
we  do  is  turn  it  'round  in  our  hands  and  say,  ' '  Look  what  Massa 
give  me .  A  picayune . "  Like  that .  Wasn '  t  no  candy  or  nothin ' 
to  buy.  Sometime  the  banana  man  or  the  dago  man  sellin'  little 
cakes  pass  on  the  road,  so  we  save  it.  I  spent  mine  for  bananas 
one  time.  Then  after  I  et  'em  I  started  to  cry.  My  ma  say,  "What 
you  cryin'  for,  honey?"  I  say,  "I  done  spent  my  picayune,  and 
I  et  my  bananas.  Now  I  ain't  got  nothin'."  She  say,  "You  is 
the  craziest  chile  I  ever  knowed  in  my  life!" 

Francis  returned  to  Christmas. 

'We  greeted  everybody  in  the  Big  House  wit'  our  yells,1  she 
said.  '  We'd  yell  "Christmas  gif !  Christmas  gif !"  and  we  were 
all  happy.  Befo'  dinner  Massa  give  each  of  us  a  big  glass 
of  eggnog,  and  we  sing,  "Christmas  comes  but  once  a  year  an' 
everyone  mus'  have  good  cheer."  Mos'  the  time  all  the  colored 
peoples  have  turkeys  and  chickens,  a  real  Christmas  dinner.' 

Slaves  were  valuable  property  and  the  owner  of  any  intelli- 
gence provided  adequately  for  their  physical  welfare.  The  larger 


2 32  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

estates  operated  hospitals  for  those  who  were  ill.  Trinity  Plan- 
tation, for  example,  maintained  two  white  physicians  on  its 
payroll,  Doctors  Stone  and  Baillot,  whose  duties  were  to  attend 
the  slaves  when  ill.  Often,  on  smaller  plantations,  the  mistress 
personally  cared  for  sick  Negroes.  Nurseries  were  often  pro- 
vided for  small  children  and  were  cared  for  by  the  older  Ne- 
gresses, so  that  the  mothers  of  the  youngsters  might  work  in  the 
fields.  Women  in  childbirth  received  careful  attention  in  most 
cases,  for  each  new  child  increased  the  planter's  wealth. 

Small  slaves  were  sometimes  assigned  jobs  like  those  of  shell- 
ing peas  and  beans  in  the  kitchen  garden,  or  assisting  in  the 
kitchen.  At  times  boys  in  their  teens,  especially  if  intelligent 
or  light-colored,  were  indented  out  to  tradesmen.  The  Orleans 
Daily  Delta,  August  iz,  185 z,  offered  'One  Cent  Reward'  for 
Francis  or  Franklin  Allen,  a  runaway  apprentice,  '  a  good  bar- 
tender, about  fourteen,  fair  and  blue-eyed.'  Perhaps  the  ab- 
surdly small  reward  indicated  a  secret  hope  on  someone's  part 
that  he  had  made  good  his  escape?  ta. 

Newborn  children  of  planters  were  assigned  slaves  at  their 
birth,  a  woman  for  a  girl,  a  colored  youth  for  a  boy.  Often  the 
attachments  endured  through  life,  the  Negress  remaining  the 
girl's  'Mammy'  for  the  balance  of  her  days,  the  Negro  serving 
his  young  master  as  valet,  and  aging  into  one  of  the  beloved 
'  Uncles'  of  which  so  much  has  been  written.  Many  of  the  latter 
even  followed  their  masters  into  the  firing  lines  of  the  War  Be- 
tween the  States.  Slaves  presented  as  wedding  gifts  to  brides 
were  usually  proud  of  the  honor,  boasted  of  raising  '  the  chillun' 
resulting  from  the  marriage. 

Treatment  accorded  slaves  varied  in  proportion  to  the  per- 
sonal disposition  of  their  owners,  but  slaves  were  financial  in- 
vestments and  aside  from  any  particular  virtue,  planters  were 
business  men  and  cared  neither  to  destroy  their  property  nor  to 
hamper  the  operation  of  the  estates.  Flogging,  usually  admin- 
istered by  an  overseer  or  driver,  was  common,  but  it  must  be  con- 
sidered that  all  punishment  of  this  period  was  more  severe  than 
it  is  supposed  to  be  now;  white  people  were  harsher  to  their  own 
race,  prisons,  asylums,  even  mental  institutions,  being  rife  with 
brutality.  Unfortunately,  though,  there  are  a  great  many  tales 
of  sadistic  cruelty  inflicted  on  slaves  by  their  masters. 


The  Slaves 

George  Blisset,  reared  a  slave,  remembered,  'On  our  planta- 
tion the  overseer  used  to  line  up  all  the  young  nigger  men  every 
Monday  morning  and  give  'em  a  few  lashes  over  their  backs. 
He  said  niggers  wasn't  no  good  on  Mondays  'less  they  had  a 
little  taste  of  the  whip.  They  had  too  much  of  an  easy  time  on 
Sunday,  he  said.  He  wanted  to  get  'em  started  with  a  'termina- 
tion to  work.' 

'Lots  of  folks  was  real  mean,'  said  Francis  Doby.  "Like  I 
said,  they  was  always  good  to  us  at  my  place,  but  other  places 
I  knows  it  was  jest  whippin',  whippin',  whippin'  all  the  time. 
My  ma  once  belonged  to  Massa  De  Gruy  and  he  was  sure  a  hard 
man.  My  ma  was  hardheaded  and  sassy,  and  she'd  talk  right 
back  to  anybody,  Massa  or  nobody.  Lots  of  times  she  got  a  bull- 
whip  on  her  nekkid  back/ 

Charity  Parker,  about  twelve  or  fourteen  when  freedom  came, 
swears  she  never  saw  a  slave  whipped  in  her  life,  but  she  heard 
of  many  such  instances.  'Maybe  I  gettin'  old,'  she  said,  'but  I 
know  this,  I  sho'  never  did  see  any  nigger  whipped,  but  I  knows, 
too,  lots  of  'em  was.' 

'My  ma  died  when  I  was  about  eleven  years  old,'  said  Janie 
Smith.  'Old  Marse  was  mean  to  her.  Whip  her  all  the  time. 
Made  her  work  on  the  fields  the  very  day  she  had  a  baby,  and 
she  borned  the  baby  right  out  in  the  cotton  patch  and  died.  Old 
Marse  couldn't  stand  for  his  slaves  gettin'  educated,  either.  If 
he  so  much  as  caught  one  with  a  paper  or  pencil,  trying  to  learn 
how  to  write,  he'd  beat  him  half  to  death.  People  didn't  want 
niggers  to  learn  nothin'  in  them  days.' 

John  McDonald  told  a  similar  story,  saying,  'My  boss  man 
catch  any  nigger  with  a  book  or  a  pencil  it  was  twenty-five 
lashes.' 

Slaves  were  punished  for  lying,  laziness,  insolence,  stealing, 
being  late  for  work,  and  for  various  moral  infringements.  Plant- 
ers usually  punished  Negresses  for  associating  with  low-caste 
white  men.  Nothing  much  has  been  said  about  their  association 
with  high-caste  white  men. 

Elizabeth  Ross  Hite  remembered  seeing  Negroes  put  into 
stocks,  though  the  time  slaves  spent  in  these  contraptions  has 
undoubtedly  been  exaggerated  in  her  memory. 


2  34  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

'They  put  in  their  hands  and  feets  and 'buckle  'em  so  they 
couldn't  move  and  they'd  stay  there  for  months  and  months.  I 
never  did  see  no  massa  hang  his  niggers  like  some  peoples  say, 
but  maybe  they  did.  Most  of  the  mean  massas  would  just  have 
a  driver  tie  a  nigger  up  to  a  tree,  nekkid,  and  beat  him  to  death 
with  a  whip.  I  seen  'em  do  that.' 

It  was  always  the  driver  or  overseer's  job  to  flog  the  slaves. 
Sometimes  a  driver  did  not  like  to  lash  Negroes,  so  he  would 
tie  them  up,  pop  his  whip  a  few  times,  and  instruct  the  victim  to 
yell,  so  the  planter,  who  might  be  within  hearing  distance, 
would  think  his  instructions  were  being  followed. 

'That  nigger  would  holler  jest  like  he  was  being  beat  bad,' 
said  Bongy  Jackson.  '  I  recollect  one  time  a  Massa  come  out  the 
house  and  told  the  driver  to  stop.  He  thought  that  coon  was 
gittin*  whipped  to  death,  and  that  nigger  ain't  never  been 
touched.' 

Sometimes  resourcefulness  was  required  to  administer  punish- 
ment. When  a  pregnant  woman  was  to  be  whipped  it  was  the 
custom  to  dig  a  hole  in  the  ground,  then  spread-eagle  her,  face 
downward,  so  that  her  abdomen  would  fit  into  the  hole.  Then 
the  whip  was  applied. 

'I  seen  that  lots  of  times,'  said  Odee  Jackson,  aged  ninety- 
three.  'They'd  dig  a  hole  for  that  poor  soul's  belly  'cause  they 
didn't  want  her  child  to  get  hurted.  It  worth  money.  Then 
they  would  beat  her  'til  her  back  was  a  mass  of  blood.  After 
that  they'd  rub  salt  into  it,  or  throw  a  bucket  of  salt  and  water 
over  her.  Sure  they  done  that.  I  seen  'em.' 

The  lashes  given  a  slave  during  a  flogging  might  be  ten  or 
fifty  or  two  hundred  —  or  at  least  there  is  evidence  to  that  effect. 
Of  course  two  hundred  blows  usually  meant  a  death  sentence  if 
administered  at  one  time,  so  such  a  sentence  was  nearly  always 
meted  out  twenty-five  or  fifty  blows  on  different  dates. 

It  is  said  that  a  certain  Mr.  Reau  used  to  hang  incorrigible 
slaves  in  the  woods  near  his  plantation.  There  is  a  legend  that 
Reau  died  in  a  most  peculiar  fashion.  One  morning  he  began  to 
jump  up  and  down  in  his  bed,  was  at  last  suspended  in  midair, 
eyes  and  tongue  protruding.  He  had  every  appearance  of  having 
been  hanged. 


The  Slaves  -2-55 

Perhaps  the  crudest  master  in  Louisiana  was  M.  Valsin  Mer- 
million.  One  of  his  punishments  was  to  place  a  slave  in  a  coffin- 
like  box,  stood  on  end,  in  which  nails  were  placed  in  such  a  way 
that  the  creature  was  unable  to  move.  He  was  powerless  even 
to  chase  flies  and  ants  crawling  on  some  portions  of  his  body. 
Mermillion  prided  himself  on  possessing  only  slaves  with  fine 
physiques.  It  is  said  that  once  he  purchased  an  extraordinarily 
splendid  young  Black,  and  immediately  ordered  him  hitched  to 
the  plow.  When  the  boy  refused  to  perform  such  an  order,  never 
having  done  such  work,  Mermillion  had  him  dig  his  own 
grave,  stood  him  in  the  hole  and  shot  him  with  his  own  hand. 

The  Black  Code  was  sometimes  invoked  in  cases  of  unneces- 
sary cruelty,  though  it  is  highly  probable  that  ascertainment  of 
guilt  was  difficult.  The  Weekly  Picayune,  July  19,  1844,  contained 
a  protest  against  one  such  case,  however,  in  the  following 
article : 

CRUELTY 

The  most  revolting  spectacle  we  have  ever  looked  upon  was 
the  case  of  two  slaves  belonging  to  a  free  man  of  color,  named 
Etienne  Fortin,  who  lives  on  Melpomene  Street;  the  one  a  boy 
of  fourteen,  the  other  a  girl  of  eighteen  years  of  age.  They  had 
been  beaten  and  lacerated  in  a  most  brutal  manner,  by  their 
master.  A  gentleman  who  happened  to  be  passing  Fprtin's 
house,  yesterday  evening  discovered  the  slaves  in  the  yard 
chained  to  a  log,  and  suffering  the  most  excruciating  tor- 
ture. .  .  . 

Bienville  established  the  Black  Code  in  172.4,  and  it  contained 
fifty-three  specific  regulations  regarding  the  care,  treatment,  in- 
struction and  general  conduct  of  slaves  and  freed  Negroes,  fol- 
lowing the  first  provision,  which  called  for  expulsion  of  Jews 
from  the  Colony.  Another  law  specified  that  all  Negroes  held 
in  slavery  must  be  baptized  in  the  faith  of  the  Roman  Catholic 
Church.  Aside  from  these  examples  of  intolerance  and  bigotry 
most  of  the  other  laws  were  designed  for  the  betterment  of  the 
relationship  between  slave  and  master.  Provision  was  made  for 
aged  slaves  and  hospitalization  for  those  in  any  way  incapaci- 
tated. No  work  was  allowed  on  Sundays  and  holidays.  Mass 


2  $  6  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

meetings  and  fraternization  among  slaves  on  different  plantations 
was  outlawed.  Rigid  rulings  were  set  up  forbidding  miscegena- 
tion, amalgamation,  forced  marriages  or  breeding,  and  marriages 
between  slaves  of  different  masters.  Excessive  cruelty  by  slave 
owners  was  condemned,  slave  purchases  were  restricted  and 
slaves'  use  of  firearms  sternly  prohibited.  The  separation  of 
families,  especially  the  parting  of  children  under  fourteen  years 
of  age  from  their  mothers,  was  discouraged.  And  although  a 
slave's  testimony  was  of  no  value  in  court,  a  trial  was  assured 
such  persons  except  where  infidelity  to  a  master  was  involved. 

Penalties  for  violations  of  the  Black  Code  were  extremely 
brutal  according  to  our  standards.  First  offenders  had  their  ears 
cut  off  and  were  branded  on  one  shoulder  with  a  fleur-de-lis;  sec- 
ond offenders  were  hamstrung  and  their  one  shoulder  branded. 
Third  offenders  were  executed. 

Carlyle  Stewart,  ex-slave,  said,  'My  Missus  and  Marse  was 
both  cruel.  Every  nigger  on  the  place  had  whip  scars  on  his 
back.  My  Grandma  run  away  and  when  they  brung  her  back 
she  got  whipped  and  ol'  Marse  had  her  shoulder  branded  with  a 
redhot  iron.  I  seen  him  put  a  woman's  eye  out  with  a  fork,  just 
because  she  talked  back  to  him.  He'd  take  men  and  hitch  'em  to 
plows  like  mules.  The  drivers  would  come  through  the  quarters 
at  night  and  check  on  who  was  missin'.  God  help  them  what 
was !  They'd  git  one  hundred  and  fifty  to  two  hundred  licks  with 
a  whip.' 

The  Louisiana  Gazette  carried  a  notice  on  June  z},  1810: 

Yesterday  afternoon  a  negro  man  was  executed  in  the  rear  of 
the  city.  He  was  found  guilty  of  assaulting  his  master  with  an 
intent  to  kill,  and  is  the  first  example  in  this  parish  under  the 
Black  Code. 

The  following  notice  from  The  Weekly  Delta,  March  30,  1846, 
was  probably  intended  to  be  a  cynical  comment  on  public  execu- 
tions: 

Today  the  citizens  of  New  Orleans  may  have  the  opportunity 
of  enjoying  themselves  in  witnessing  the  public  strangulation 
of  a  black  woman. 

As  this  exhibition  is  one  of  great  interest  and  of  rare  occur- 


The  Slaves 

rence,  we  presume  that  it  will  draw  together  a  large  crowd  of 
spectators  —  men,  women  and  children;  black,  white  and 
yellow  —  who  will  attend  for  the  sole  purpose  of  strengthen- 
ing their  moral  principles,  increasing  their  detestation  of 
crime,  and  enabling  them  hereafter  more  firmly  to  resist  the 
temptations  of  sin. 

One  of  the  best  known  stories  of  cruelty  to  slaves  is  the  famous 
case  of  Madame  LaLaurie  in  New  Orleans'  Vieux  Carre.  Few 
visitors  to  that  section  have  not  heard  the  sensational  tale.  One 
day  Madame 's  house  caught  fire,  and  those  who  entered  to  ex- 
tinguish the  flames  found  seven  slaves,  variously  mutilated, 
chained  to  the  wall  in  an  upper  room.  One  woman  had  been 
kept  on  her  knees  so  long  she  could  no  longer  stand.  Another,  a 
man,  had  a  horrible  gaping  wound  in  his  head  and  'his  body 
was  covered  with  scars  filled  with  worms.'  So  infuriated  was 
the  citizenry  of  New  Orleans  that  a  mob  quickly  gathered  out- 
side the  mansion,  threatening  violence  and  bodily  harm  to  the 
lovely  and  socially  prominent  Delphine  LaLaurie.  Suddenly, 
says  the  story,  the  gates  swung  wide  and  a  swaying  carriage 
drawn  by  plunging  horses  dashed  through  the  crowd,  escaping 
out  the  Bayou  Road  and  vanishing.  Other  versions  of  the  tale 
picture  Madame  as  a  much  maligned  and  entirely  innocent  vic- 
tim of  spite  and  gossip,  and  brand  the  whole  story  as  the  falsi- 
fication of  an  envious  relative  and  neighbor. 

Occasionally  it  seems  a  slave  reversed  the  conditions,  and 
meted  out  brutality  to  the  master  or  mistress.  Perhaps  the  most 
startling  case  of  this  sort  recorded  was  brought  out  in  the  court 
trial  of  a  slave  known  as  Pauline  in  New  Orleans.  Pauline  is 
described  as  having  been  a  statuesque  quadroon  beauty  with 
flashing  black  eyes  and  pale  golden  skin,  with  whom  her  master 
had  become  violently  infatuated.  The  mistress  of  the  house  and 
her  three  children  were  found  one  day,  by  police  officers,  in  a 
cabinet  in  the  home,  naked  and  starving,  and  covered  with  scars 
of  beatings  and  burnings.  The  wife  related  a  story  of  how  her 
husband  had  forced  her  to  watch  his  lovemaking  with  the 
Negress,  who  had  entirely  usurped  her  place  in  the  home;  then 
how,  while  the  husband  was  away,  Pauline  had  imprisoned  her 
and  the  children  and  tortured  them  with  live  coals,  a  white-hot 


2)8 —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

poker  and  a  whip,  refusing  them  any  food  and  scarcely  any 
water.  Pauline  was"  tried  under  the  Black  Code  and  subse- 
quently hanged,  five  thousand  persons  witnessing  her  end. 

The  clothes  worn  by  the  plantation  slaves  were  simple.  Men 
usually  wore  loose  blouses  and  pantaloons,  and  sometimes  ker- 
chiefs about  their  heads  and  necks.  The  present-day  Negro's 
habit  of  wearing  an  old  stocking  on  his  head  may  have  come 
down  from  this  custom,  though  now  it  is  usually  done  for  pur- 
poses of  ' hair-straightening.'  Women  wore  full  gathered  skirts 
and  tight  bodices,  sometimes  adding  spotless  white  neckerchiefs, 
aprons  and  tignons.  This  headgear  is  said  to  have  been  brought 
to  Louisiana  from  Martinique  and  San  Domingo,  and  evidence 
of  this  is  borne  out  by  the  old  family  portraits  of  beautiful 
women  with  Madras  handkerchiefs  bound  about  their  heads. 
White  women  discontinued  wearing  the  tignon  in  1786,  when  a 
legal  manifesto  was  issued,  designating  this  headdress  as  the 
only  one  that  might  be  worn  by  free  women  of  color.  These 
women,  many  of  them  beautiful  and  perfectly  white  in  appear- 
ance, had  caused  so  much  disturbance  in  the  Colony  by  attract- 
ing the  attention  of  white  men,  that  the  law  was  issued,  barring 
them  from  wearing  hats  or  plumes  or  jewels,  and  designed  to 
render  them  less  attractive.  It  is  said,  however,  that  the  tignons 
increased  their  beauty  and  made  them  more  appealing  than  ever ! 

Slave  footwear  was  usually  made  on  the  plantations.  Cather- 
ine Cornelius  remembered,  somewhat  vaguely,  that,  'the  slaves' 
shoes  was  heavy  worked  shoes.'  Trinity  Plantation  had  a  shoe- 
maker's shop  and  a  cobbler,  a  free  man  of  color,  who  tanned  the 
leather  and  made  the  shoes.  Pierre  Landreaux,  one  of  the  wealth- 
iest of  Louisiana  planters,  imported  the  shoes  from  France. 
Charity  Parker  boasted,  '  One  thing  I  gotta  hand  my  marse.  He 
sure  done  give  us  good  shoes  for  our  feets . ' 

'Possum  hunting  was  one  of  the  chief  causes  for  slaves  violat- 
ing plantation  regulations.  Negroes  could  not  resist  the  urge  to 
go  on  these  nocturnal  expeditions.  Drivers  and  the  night  patrols 
were  constantly  on  the  alert  to  prevent  this,  but  without  much 
success.  When  the  animal  was  being  cooked,  the  Negroes  would 
close  all  openings  in  the  cabin  where  the  feast  was  being  pre- 
pared '  to  keep  the  smell  from  leakin'  out.'  If  the  drivers  caught 


The  Slaves  —  239 

a  whiff  of  roasting  'possum,  it  was  bad  for  the  offenders.  A  gen- 
eral whipping  would  probably  be  administered. 

"Possums?'  said  West  Chapman,  ex-slave.  'Sure,  we  ate 
plenty  of  'em.  We'd  clean  'em  and  wash  'em,  parboil  'em,  then 
roast  them  fellows  on  hot  coals  'long  side  sweet  potatoes.  You 
could  dry  'em,  too,  by  smokin'  'em  like  hams. 

'We  made  persimmon  beer,  too,'  continued  West.  'Jest  stuck 
our  persimmons  in  a  keg  with  two  or  three  gallons  of  water  and 
sweet  potato  peelings  and  some  hunks  of  corn  bread  and  left  it 
there  until  it  began  to  work.  It  sure  is  good  to  drink  'long  with 
cracklin*  bread  and  potatoes.' 

Slave  weddings  were  usually  held  on  Saturday  nights  and  cele- 
brated with  a  feast  and  a  dance.  There  was  no  fixed  procedure 
regarding  the  marriage  of  slaves.  Sometimes  they  were  joined 
merely  by  the  consent  of  the  master.  Jordan  Wingate  said,  '  My 
woman  and  me  just  made  an  agreement.'  Elizabeth  Ross  Hite 
said,  '  My  master  would  say  to  two  peoples  what  wanted  to  get 
married,  "Come  on,  darky,  jump  over  this  here  broom  and  call 
yourself  man  and  wife."  So  many  went  to  the  master,  Eliza- 
beth said,  that  she  has  always  believed  it  was  because  they  re- 
ceived presents.  Sometimes  there  was  a  preacher  and  a  real  mar- 
riage. '  It  was  jest  like  peoples  today,'  she  declared.  '  The  bride 
wore  all  the  trimmin's,  a  veil  and  a  wreath,  and  carried  a  bou- 
quet and  all.'  Bongy  Jackson  attended  her  parents'  wedding 
and  can't  understand  that  this  amazes  people.  '  During  slavery, ' 
said  Bongy,  'us  niggers  jest  jumped  the  broom  wit'  the  master's 
consent.  After  the  Cibil  War,  soon's  they  got  a  little  ole  piece 
of  money  they  got  a  preacher  and  had  a  real  weddin'.  My  ma 
dressed  like  a  bride  an'  all,  an'  she  done  already  had  nine  chil- 
dren by  my  pa.  All  us  kids  was  there  an'  we  sure  had  us  a  fine 
time.' 

Preacher  or  no  preacher,  marriage  among  slaves  frequently 
lasted  through  life,  and  if  an  occasion  presented  itself  there 
seems  to  have  always  existed  a  willingness  to  have  the  relation- 
ship legalized.  Any  occasion  such  as  a  marriage  called  for  a  big 
celebration  with  feasting  and  dancing  that  lasted  all  through  the 
night. 

'We  had  plenty  of  good  times,'  said  Catherine  Cornelius. 


240 —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

'  Don't  you  think  we  didn't.  We  had  singin',  dancin'  and  vistin' 
'mong  ourselves  on  the  plantation.  Every  big  plantation  was 
like  a  little  ole  nigger  town,  there  was  so  many  of  us.  The 
slaves  had  lots  of  fun  in  their  quarters,  I  don't  care  what  peoples 
say.  They  played  guitar  and  used  a  barrel  with  a  skin  over  it  for 
a  drum.  They  sure  talked  about  the  master's  business  in  the 
quarters,  too.' 

The  slaves  were  often  summoned  to  the  Big  House  to  sing  and 
dance  the  buck  and  wing  for  guests.  Here  they  were  given 
drinks  and  food. 

'Them  smart-alec  niggers'd  make  the  white  folks  yell  wit' 
laughin'  at  their  crazy  antics,'  said  ex-slave  Dan  Barton.  '  You 
know  a  nigger  is  jest  a  born  show-offer.  They'd  dance  the  buck 
and  wing  and  another  step  nobody  does  any  more.  It  went  two 
steps  to  the  right,  two  steps  to  the  left.  The  womens  shake  their 
skirts  and  the  mens  dance  'round  them.  Let  me  tell  you,  niggers 
was  all  right  on  the  plantations .  I  never  seen  no  whippin ' .  Half 
that  stuff  you  hear  ain't  true  at  all.' 

But  George  Blisset  said, '  Our  marster  couldn't  stand  noise.  Us 
slaves  used  get  together  in  one  of  the  houses  in  the  quarter  and 
take  a  big  iron  pot  with  three  laigs  —  the  kind  you  use  for 
killin'  hawgs  —  and  dance  and  sing  around  that,  and  there 
wouldn't  be  no  noise  could  be  heard,  'cause  all  the  noise  go  right 
into  the  pot.  Us  held  balls  by  candlelight,  though  they  was 
strickly  against  orders.  If  they  catched  us  we  got  whipped.  We 
couldn't  look  tired  next  day,  either.  First  thing  ole  driver's  say 
was  that  we  was  up  late  the  night  before,  and  he  sure  lay  that 
bull  whip  on  our  nekkid  skin.' 

The  fact  that  punishment  was  risked  on  some  plantations 
might  have  inspired  the  singing  of: 

Whip  or  whop,  whip  or  whop,  you-ee, 
We  gonna  sing  and  dance  and  sing, 
Whip  or  whop,  whip  or  whop,  you-ee! 
Singin',  singin'  and  dancin',  you-ec, 
Dancin',  singin'  and  dancin',  you-ee, 
Whip  or  whop,  whip  or  whop,  you-ee! 

Charity  Parker  said,  '  Saturday  was  our  day.    Sunday  we  had 


The  Slaves  —241 

to  go  to  church.  When  I  was  young  I  didn't  care  'bout  no 
church,  but  I  could  sure  beat  them  feets  on  the  floor.  We  had  no 
music,  but  we  beat,  "Bourn!  Bourn!  Doum!  Doum!  Doum!" 
One  day  a  old  man  we  called  Antoine  say,  "I'm  gonna  make 
you-all  a  drum  what'll  beat,  'Bourn!  Bourn!  Bourn!'  Wait  'til 
Massa  kill  a  cow."  You  see,  they  only  keep  that  old  man 
'round  to  play  with  the  children,  'cause  he  was  too  old  to  do 
any  work. 

'  Well,  he  get  that  hide  and  he  make  us  a  drum.  He  straddle 
that  drum  and  beat  on  it,  and  fust  thing  you  know  we  was  all 
a-dancing  and  a-beating  the  floor  with  our  feets.  Chile,  we 
dance  'til  midnight.  To  finish  the  ball  we  say,  " Balance?.  Ca- 
linda!" ,  and  then  we  twist  and  turn,  and  holler  again,  "  Balance-^ 
Calinda!" ,  and  turn  'round  again.  Then  the  ball  was  over.' 

Slave  balls  seem  to  have  grown  in  number,  and  though  oper- 
ated with  a  certain  amount  of  secrecy,  at  last  aroused  the  ire  of 
the  white  population.  On  May  zz,  1860,  Le  Vigilant,  a  news- 
paper, published  the  following  angry  letter,  given  here  in  part : 

For  the  last  two  or  three  months,  the  balls  for  white  persons 
have  given  place  to  balls  and  parties  for  negroes.  When  a  new 
house  is  built,  following  an  old  custom,  it  is  christened  by  our 
slaves  having  a  grand  ball  at  night  in  the  building.  Twice,  to 
my  knowledge,  this  '  privileged'  class  has  given  a  ball  so  close 
to  our  Donaldsonville  Ballroom  that  I  nearly  walked  right 
into  their  place,  and  was  only  stopped  by  hearing  the  dis- 
cordant notes  of  the  violin,  which  I  knew  could  hardly  come 
from  our  own  orchestra. 

Besides  the  Balls,  our  slaves  have  musicals  at  night,  mixed 
with  games  and  round  dances,  etc.  .  .  . 

Mr.  Editor  how  can  this  state  of  things  go  on,  in  the  face  of 
an  Act  of  Legislature  and  ordinances  of  the  Police  Jury,  and 
the  laws  of  Donaldsonville,  prohibiting  negro  assemblies  at 
night?  .  .  . 

Watermelon  feasts  and  fish  fries  were  of  course  popular  among 
slaves,  as  they  still  are  with  Negroes,  though  today  they  are 
usually  used  as  a  means  toward  raising  funds  for  church  or  per- 
sonal use. 

The  slave  was  forced,  in  most  cases,  to  adopt  the  religious  be- 


~  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

liefs  of  his  master,  and  did  —  superficially.  Under  French  and 
Spanish  owners  the  Blacks  were  baptized  Roman  Catholic  in 
practically  every  instance,  while  under  American  masters,  usu- 
ally Protestant,  they  were  christened  whatever  denomination 
their  particular  owner  professed.  But  under  the  thin  veneer  of 
Christianity  African  fetish  worship  and  voodooism  continued 
to  flourish  for  a  long  time,  until  there  came  about  the  queer 
blending  of  Christianity  and  voodooism  still  common  among 
some  Negroes  today. 

Catherine  Cornelius  said, '  We  was  all  christened  in  the  church. 
•We  wasn't  never  dipped  in  no  river  like  some  peoples  was.  The 
church  we  belonged  to  was  the  'Piscopalian  Church.' 

Elizabeth  Ross  Hite  added  her  bit  on  this  subject,  declaring, 
'  We  was  all  supposed  to  be  Catholics  on  our  place,  but  lots  didn't 
like  that  'ligion.  We  used  to  hide  behind  some  bricks  and  hold 
church  ourselves.  You  see,  the  Catholic  preachers  from  France 
wouldn't  let  us  shout,  and  the  Lawd  done  said  you  gotta  shout 
if  you  want  to  be  saved.  That's  in  the  Bible.' 

Elizabeth  continued,  'Sometimes  we  held  church  all  night 
long,  'til  way  in  the  mornin'.  We  burned  some  grease  in  a  can 
for  the  preacher  to  see  the  Bible  by,  and  one  time  the  preacher 
caught  fire.  That  sure  caused  some  commotion.  Bible  started 
burnin',  and  the  preacher's  coat  caught.  That  was  ole  Mingo. 
And  ole  Mingo's  favorite  text  was  "Pure  gold  tried  by  fire."  I 
always  say  that  Mingo  must've  had  to  be  tried  hisself,  else 
the  Lawd  wouldn't  made  him  be  catched  on  fire  quick  like 
that. 

'Next  day  everybody  was  late  to  work,  and  everybody  who 
was  got  whipped  by  the  drivers.  See,  our  master  didn't  like  us 
to  have  too  much  'ligion,  said  it  made  us  lag  in  our  work.  He 
jest  wanted  us  to  be  Catholicses  on  Sundays  and  go  to  mass  and 
not  study  'bout  nothin'  like  that  on  week  days.  He  didn't  want 
us  shoutin'  and  moanin'  all  day  'long,  but  you  gotta  shout  and 
you  gotta  moan  if  you  wants  to  be  saved. 

'We  used  to  have  baptisms  in  a  pond  by  the  sugar  house. 
Everybody  was  anxious  to  get  baptized  and  be  saved.  The 
preacher  would  yell,  "Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!",  and  the  nig- 
gers would  sing, 


The  Slaves  —  2  4  $ 

I  baptize  you  in  the  fibber  Jordan, 

I  baptize  you  in  the  ribber  Jordan, 

Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!  Hallelujah,  Lord! 

Children,  come  a-runnin', 

Children,  come  a-runnin', 

I  baptize  you  in  the  ribber  Jordan.  .  .  . 

'  One  old  sister  wanted  to  be  saved  one  time  and  the  preacher 
told  her  he  was  willing  to  save  her,  but  first  she's  gotta  prove 
to  the  Lawd  that  she  was  in  a  position  to  be  saved.  You  know, 
when  they  checked  on  that  old  gal,  they  done  found  out  she  was 
the  biggest  rascal  and  worstest  witch  on  the  plantation.  She  was 
so  bad  even  the  mens  didn't  want  her,  and  that  is  somethin'. 
When  no  man  don't  want  you,  you  is  really  nothin*. 

'  It  was  too  late  to  save  her.  She  was  really  a  lost  soul,  heavy 
wit'  sin  and  bound  for  Hell.  It  used  to  make  us  all  so  sad.  You 
know,  when  we  saved  a  sister  there  was  glory  in  our  hearts. 
When  she  was  baptized,  the  crowd  would  shout,  " Thank  Gawd! 
There  goes  Sister  Amy!  I  been  prayin'  for  this  night  on  to  two 
years  now!  Bless  Gawd!  She  is  saved  at  last.  Her  sins  are 
washed  away!" 

There  was  another  factor  beside  the  white  folks'  religion 
which  did  much  to  weaken  the  hold  of  fetishism  and  voodooism 
on  the  Negro.  This  was  the  belief  in  good-luck  and  bad-luck 
amulets  and  charms,  and  the  traveling  fortune  teller  and  peddler 
who  preyed  upon  those  who  held  belief  in  these  things.  One  of 
these  peddlers,  mentioned  in  the  Daily  True  Delta,  May  2.9,  1851, 
tried  to  induce  slaves  —  females  —  to  steal  from  their  masters 
and  run  away  with  him.  The  Delta  said: 

The  slave  William  belonging  to  the  estate  of  Creswell  was 
yesterday  committed  in  the  Fourth  District  ...  on  a  charge  of 
having  tried  to  induce  two  colored  women  to  run  away  from 
their  master.  The  girls  were  brought  up  to  testify,  and  the 
development  made  was  of  a  rather  novel  character.  One  was 
a  young  and  fine  looking  wench,  who  stirred  up  the  hot  blood 
of  the  accused.  He  gave  her  a  '  brass  copper,'  which  she  was  to 
put  in  a  little  bag  and  wear  it  around  her  body.  She  was  also 
told  to  bruise  some  garlic  and  wear  it  in  her  shoes.  This  was 


244  — 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 


to  give  good  luck  in  general,  and  the  copper  was  to  insure  the 
kindness  of  the  whites.  .  .  . 

She  was  also  to  throw  whatever  she  could  find  in  the  house 
in  the  shape  of  money,  plate,  clothing,  etc.,  outside  the  fence 
where  he  could  find  them.  Of  this  a  fund  was  to  be  raised 
wherewith  to  procure  free  papers  from  a  Frenchman  residing  in 
New  Orleans.  With  these  they  were  to  wend  their  way  to 
Washington,  thence  to  Liverpool,  after  which  they  were  to 
visit  the  court  of  Louis  Napoleon.  .  .  . 

William  received  fifty  lashes  and  was  sentenced  to  wear  an  iron 
collar  for  one  year. 

Death  during  slavery  times  was  of  the  same  importance  to  the 
Louisiana  Negro  as  it  is  today,  and  funerals  possessed  many  of 
the  same  festive  aspects.  Most  of  the  larger  plantations  had  a 
special  coffinmaker. 

'I  can  still  recollect  my  ma's  funeral/  said  Catherine  Cor- 
nelius. 'They  sure  give  her  a  nice  one.  The  preacher  on  the 
place,  Brother  Aaron,  was  a  cane  cutter,  and  when  anybody  died, 
they  done  let  him  off  from  the  fields  to  preach  the  funeral. .  We 
had  our  own  buryin'  grounds  a  good  piece  in  the  back  of  the 
plantation.  We  didn't  have  no  headstones,  but  we  used  to  plant 
willow  trees  to  know  the  place  where  one  of  our  relatives  was 
buried.  All  the  coffins  was  made  on  the  place,  and  they  was 
plain  wooden  boxes,  but  nicely  made.  The  bodies  was  carried 
off  in  the  carts  and  the  others  walked.  When  anybody  died  all 
the  slaves  were  let  off  from  work  to  go  to  the  funeral.  Some- 
times the  people  come  down  from  the  Big  House,  and  if  it  wras 
some  nigger  they  like,  they  cry,  too.' 

The  New  Orleans  Weekly  Delta ,  September  16,  1853,  gives  the 
following  description  of  the  burial  of  a  devoted  slave  who  was 
burned  to  death: 

A  more  solemn  and  affecting  sight  than  the  funeral  procession 
which  followed  this  poor  slave  to  his  everlasting  home,  we 
have  never  witnessed.  The  coffin  was  placed  in  a  magnificent 
hearse;  there  were  twenty-four  pall-bearers,  and  then  followed 
about  four  hundred  slaves,  all  dressed  with  the  utmost  neat- 
ness. .  .  .  This  poor  slave  was  well  cared  for,  even  to  the  last. 
His  body  was  thrown  into  no  common  trench  with  indecent 


The  Slaves  —  245 

haste,  but  was  quietly  placed  in  a  brick  tomb,  which  would 
have  satisfied  the  affections  of  the  most  fastidious  mourning 
friend  that  any  token  of  regard  and  respect  had  been  paid.  .  .  . 

Elizabeth  Ross  Kite  says  that  at  Trinity  Plantation  there  was 
a  preacher,  the  Reverend  Jacob  Nelson,  a  slave  who  spoke  five 
languages.  He  was  'educated  jest  like  white  folks,'  explained 
Elizabeth,  'and  went  around  growlin',  cryin',  talkin'  in  them 
languages  what  nobody  can  understand.  People  didn't  know 
what  he  was  a-sayin',  but  the  crowd  went  wild.  It  was  jest  like 
a  picnic  when  the  Reverend  Nelson  preach  a  funeral;  some  people 
fainted.' 

But  there's  another  side  to  the  story,  too. 

' Mind,  what  I  tell  you,'  Cecile  George  said.  ' I  tell  you  what 
I  seen  wit'  my  own  two  eyes.  The  people  on  the  plantation  they 
take  sick  and  they  die.  Ain't  no  coffin  for  them.  They  take 
planks  and  nail  them  together  like  a  chicken  coop.  You  could 
see  through  it.  And  it's  too  short,  the  neck's  too  long.  So  a 
man  stand  up  on  the  coffin,  jump  on  the  corpse,  break  his  neck 
and  his  head  fall  on  his  chest.  Then  they  nail  the  top  and  one 
nail  go  through  the  brain.  You  think  I  make  that  up  or  dream 
it?  I  seen  that  wit'  mine  own  eyes. 

'  Then  they  put  them  in  a  wagon  —  the  one  they  haul  the 
manure  in,  nobody  wit'  them.  The  people  have  to  go  right  on 
to  work.  Make  no  difference  it  your  own  father,  you  gotta  go 
out  in  the  fields  that  day.  I  seen  that  wit'  my  own  eyes.  It  was 
wicked!  Wicked!  Wicked!  Wicked!  And  I  seen  it  wit*  my 
own  eyes.' 

Yet,  despite  the  tales  of  inhumanity  of  masters  to  the  slaves, 
there  is  every  reason  to  believe  there  were  few  actual  cases  of 
excessive  and  extreme  cruelty.  Without  a  doubt,  the  affection 
directed  toward  his  owner  by  many  a  slave  was  a  deep  and  im- 
perishable thing.  The  loyalty  and  fidelity  of  the  household 
servant,  in  particular,  were  often  unquestionable.  The  mam- 
mies, for  instance,  practically  ruled  the  Big  Houses.  Mammy 
was  always  a  more  than  competent  cook,  and  a  second  mother 
to  the  planter's  children.  Indeed,  in  many  cases,  she  was  prob- 
ably closer  to  the  youngsters  than  their  own  mother.  Mammy 
was  so  integrally  a  part  of  the  family  that  she  was  lifted  far  above 
the  other  servants. 


246 —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

During  the  war  Mammy  Marianne  baked  cookies  each  week 
and  trudged  overland  through  the  woods  to  an  army  camp  on 
the  Mississippi  River  to  deliver  them  to  her  'boy,'  one  of  the 
Confederate  officers.  Mammy  Nancy  lived  all  her  life  with  no 
other  religion  than  the  innate  goodness  in  her  own  big  heart, 
yet,  at  their  request,  she  received  Holy  Communion  in  the  Ro- 
man Catholic  Church,  kneeling  beside  three  generations  of  her 
'babies.'  Old  Mammy  July,  when  photographed  at  119  years 
of  age,  maintained  her  dignity,  even  though  only  four  feet  tall 
and  entirely  bald,  by  wearing  five  hats  telescoped  together  and 
tied  on  with  a  scarf,  saying,  'I  ain't  no  Mardy  Graw,  white 
folks!'  At  izo,  probably  the  oldest  living  woman  in  the  United 
States,  Mammy  July  trudged  from  New  Roads,  Louisiana  to 
Baton  Rouge,  to  visit  her  '  chillun,'  members  of  the  Lorio  family 
there.  But  there  are  few  living  mammies  of  the  old  type  left 
now,  and  soon  there  will  be  no  more  of  these  grand  persons  on 
whose  capacious  bosoms  the  South  at  one  time  found  peace  and 
comfort  and  security. 

There  were  remarkable  instances  of  slaves  rising  in  the  world, 
despite  their  seemingly  insurmountable  handicaps. 

William  Cooper,  owned  by  Alonzo  Roberts,  near  Cheney ville, 
while  hired  out  to  J.  A.  McCormick,  earned  not  only  his  own 
freedom  but  that  of  his  bride  also.  His  employer  allowed  him 
to  work  overtime  in  order  to  earn  the  money.  After  being  free 
he  continued  the  work  at  wages  because  he  had  been  attracted  by 
a  girl  on  a  neighboring  plantation.  He  saved  one  thousand  dol- 
lars, borrowed  five  hundred  dollars,  bought  her  and  married  her. 
Later  he  purchased  the  freedom  of  his  brother  and  was  saving 
money  to  free  the  rest  of  his  family  when  the  Civil  War  emanci- 
pated them.  When  Cooper  and  his  wife  died  they  owned  consid- 
erable property,  and  they  willed  their  estate  to  members  of  the 
family  which  had  formerly  owned  them. 

The  intelligence  and  determination  of  James  Derham,  a  slave, 
made  him  one  of  the  outstanding  physicians  of  his  day.  Born  in 
Philadelphia  in  1762.,  he  quickly  learned  to  read  and  write,  and, 
while  helping  his  master,  a  doctor,  compound  medicines,  ab- 
sorbed much  of  the  profession.  He  was  sold  to  Doctor  George 
West,  a  surgeon  in  the  Sixteenth  British  Regiment  during  the 


'" 


t 


Mother  Catherine's  grave  and  statue 


Statue  of  Jehovah  made  by  Mother  Catherine 


Mother  Maude  Shannon,  leader  of  a  popular  cult  of  today 


When  the  "Mother"  of  a  cult  dies  she  is  often  buried  with  a  crown  on  her  head 
Courtesy  of  Michael  Kirk 


The  Slaves  ^  24  j 

Revolutionary  War,  who  aided  him  in  furthering  his  medical 
studies.  Then,  at  the  close  of  that  war,  he  was  sold  to  Doctor 
Robert  Love  of  New  Orleans,  who  encouraged  his  studies  and 
eventually  freed  him  on  very  liberal  terms.  As  a  doctor  in  New 
Orleans  he  became  so  proficient  that  he  enjoyed  an  income  of 
several  thousand  dollars  a  year,  amazing  for  a  man  reared  as  a 
slave.  Of  a  modest  and  engaging  personality,  Derham  spoke 
French  fluently  and  possessed  some  knowledge  of  Spanish. 

The  slave  often  resorted  to  superstition  and  queer  homemade 
remedies  for  the  treatment  of  his  own  ills.  Warts  were  rubbed 
with  wedding  rings,  mud  and  tobacco  juice  piled  on  bee-stings. 
Fresh  mint  was  eaten  to  '  sweeten  the  stomach,'  bay-leaf  tea  ad- 
ministered for  cramps,  and  a  cow's  tooth  was  suspended  from  a 
string  around  the  baby's  neck  to  aid  teething. 

'  When  we  had  rheumatism,  we  took  an  Irish  potato,  cut  it  up 
in  pieces,  and  tied  it  'round  the  pain,'  recalled  West  Chapman. 
1  It  always  cured,  too.  Potatoes  was  also  tied  'round  the  waist 
for  the  same  purpose.'  Rubbing  with  lotions  made  of  alligator 
fat,  buzzard  grease,  or  rattlesnake  oil,  wearing  a  brass  ring  or  a 
hatband  or  belt  made  of  snakeskin  were  also  effective  for  treat- 
ment of  rheumatism,  according  to  West.  He  added  that  'hog- 
hoof,  parched  and  ground  into  dust,  dissolved  in  water,  moved 
pain.'  Jimson  weed  was  given  children  for  worms.  'It  was 
cooked  down  like  'lasses  and  it  was  good  tasting  like  candy.' 
West  concluded,  'But  nobody  uses  things  like  that  no  more. 
Everything  has  to  come  out  a  drugstore.  I  can't  understand  it.' 

4 1  used  to  know  a  ole  Democrat  what  didn't  like  colored 
people,'  said  Cecile  George^  'He  wouldn't  look  at  us  when  he 
spoke.  Said  a  nigger,  a  dog,  and  a  alligator  was  the  same  to  him. 
His  name  was  Mr.  Jerry  and  his  wife's  name  was  Mrs.  Jerry. 

'  Yellow  fever  was  ragin'  and  Mrs.  Jerry  took  wit'  it.  She  was 
really  a  good  woman,  'cept  she  had  married  Mr.  Jerry.  He 
called  in  Doctor  Levere,  then  the  doctor,  he  took  wit'  it,  too. 
Mrs.  Jerry,  she  call  me  and  I  went  to  her  bed.  She  say,  "Oh, 
Cecile,  I'm  sick.  Make  me  some  of  that  tea  of  yours. ' '  But  I  was 
scared  of  Mr.  Jerry,  and  I  wouldn't  do  it  'cause  I  know  how  that 
man  didn't  like  niggers  or  nigger  medicine.  But  I  prayed  and 
somethin'  told  me,  "Trust  God,  and  make  that  poor  woman 


248  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

some  tea. "  So  I  went  out  and  got  me  some  grass  what  I  use,  got 
some  Indian  root,  boiled  it  all  down,  and  made  me  that  tea.  I 
give  it  to  Mrs.  Jerry,  but  at  first  she  won't  sweat,  then  I  cover 
her  up  some  more  and  she  start.  You  know  she  sweat  that  fever 
all  out  right  there?  And  wit'  God's  help  I  pulled  her  through, 
and  got  her  on  her  feets.  She  lived  a  long  time.  Doctor  Levere, 
he  went  crazy,  died  in  a  'sylum.  Mr.  Jerry,  he  died  and  went  to 
Hell.  His  spirit  used  to  come  back  in  the  daytime  in  the  shapes 
of  bulldogs.  Haunted  everybody  for  a  long  time.' 

Slaves  made  black  pepper  tea  for  smallpox.  'It'd  pull  all  the 
bumps  in  and  not  leave  no  scars  or  nothing  like  that,'  vowed 
Emily  White.  Cornshucks,  boiled  down  into  a  tea,  were  also 
used  for  that  once  prevalent  disease.  Lizzie  Chandler,  ex-slave, 
recalled  this,  also  that  'when  a  person  couldn't  stop  hiccough- 
ing, all  you  had  to  do  was  to  make  him  smell  sneezeweed.  He 
sure  start  sneezing  then  and  not  hiccough  no  more.'  Red  pepper 
tea  was  administered  for  chills  and  fever,  as  was  peach-tree  leaf 
tea.  'Bird-eye  vine  is  good  for  croup,'  said  Lizzie,  'dry  it  an' 
give  it  to  a  baby  in  his  milk.'  Swamp  lilies  were  dried  and 
strung  around  a  baby's  neck  for  teething. 

Of  course  charms  against  voodoo  and  witchcraft  were  worn, 
as  they  are  today.  'Little  bags  wit'  somethin'  made  out  of  red 
flannel,'  were  recalled  by  George  Sanders,  who  added  that  they 
contained  bones  of  a  black  cat  and  similar  items. 

The  slave  never  knew  when  a  voodoo  woman  or  a  witch  doc- 
tor was  on  his  trail.  Victims  suffered  from  shooting  pains  caused 
by  needles,  wads  of  hair,  knives,  pebbles,  and  such  evil  gris-gris 
concealed  somewhere  about  their  homes.  Even  their  deaths 
might  be  brought  about  this  way.  A  voodoo  woman  could 
put  a  snake  in  your  leg  and  that  reptile  would  probably  remain 
there  for  the  rest  of  your  life. 

'I've  had  a  ole  snake  in  my  laig  all  my  life,'  swore  Clara 
Barton.  'It's  been  better  these  last  years,  but  at  fust  it  like  to 
drove  me  crazy.  I  can  still  feel  that  thing,  though.  Had  a  bad 
woman  come  after  my  man  back  on  the  plantation.  One  night 
she  snuck  in  my  room  and  stuck  that  snake  in  my  laig.  I  felt  it 
and  I  screamed,  but  it  was  too  late.  The  room  was  dark  and  I 
couldn't  see  her,  but  I  heard  her  paddin'  over  the  floor,  going 


The  Slaves 


—  249 


through  the  door.  She  left  that  door  creakin'  and  swingin'. 
When  my  ma  woke  up  and  run  in  the  room  I  was  jest  lay  in'  on 
the  floor  yellin'  in  the  dark,  and  that  door  was  still  creakin'  and 
swingin',  creakin'  and  swingin'.' 

'I  don't  believe  in  no  hoodoo  at  all,'  declared  Bongy  Jackson. 
'One  time  one  of  my  nephews  got  into  police  trouble,  and  a 
woman  come  to  my  house  and  say  if  I  pay  her  she  could  help  me 
with  hoodoo.  I  give  that  woman  some  of  my  money  and  the 
best  ham  we  have  in  the  smokehouse,  and  she  give  me  a  paper 
with  some  writing  on  it  and  some  kind  of  powder  in  it  and  some- 
thin'  what  looked  like  a  root  dried  up.  She  told  me  to  send  'em 
to  that  boy  and  tell  him  to  chew  the  root  in  the  courtroom  durin' 
his  trial,  and  to  hold  the  piece  of  paper  in  his  hand,  and  to  spit 
on  it  now  and  then  when  the  judge  wasn't  lookin'.  I  did  all 
that  and  he  did  all  that,  and  that  boy  go  to  jail  just  the  same. 
No,  I  don't  believe  in  no  hoodoo.' 

Good  and  bad  luck  played  prominent  parts  in  the  common, 
everyday  life  of  the  plantation.  Slaves  planted  sweet  basil  on 
either  side  of  the  cabin  door.  The  screech  of  an  owl  was  a  death 
sign,  while  for  a  spider  or  a  butterfly  to  light  on  a  person  was  a 
good  omen.  Cowpeas  and  hog  jowl  served  on  New  Year's  Day 
would  guarantee  plenty  to  eat  all  during  the  ensuing  year.  Keep- 
ing a  'frizzly'  chicken  around  the  house  alleviated  all  bad  luck. 

'We  called  sweet  basil  by  another  name,'  explained  Francis 
Doby.  'We  called  it  basilique,  and  it  sure  was  good  to  have 
'round  the  house.  They  is  got  two  kinds  of  basilique,  you  know, 
the  papa  plant  what's  got  them  long  thin  leaves,  and  the  mamma 
plant,  what's  got  fat  round  leaves.  You  got  to  put  'em  both  in 
the  ground  at  the  same  time  so  they'll  get  together  and  grow. 
And  when  you  got  them  in  your  yard  you  sure  is  got  good  luck 
for  yourself  all  the  year  'round.' 

'Pickin*  up  tracks'  caused  great  consternation  among  slaves. 
If  anyone  was  seen  picking  up  the  dust  of  footprints  in  a  hand- 
kerchief, it  meant  that  'a  stumblin'  block  is  sure  gwine  be  put 
in  somebody's  way.' 

Of  course  many  slaves  believed  implicitly  in  witches.  'A 
witch,'  said  Elizabeth  Ross  Kite,  'is  like  a  big  turkey  wit'  no 
eyes.  Sometimes,  they  looks  like  the  Devil,  wit'  horns  and 
everything.' 


2$  o  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Even  the  faithful  mammy  was  not  above  resorting  to  witch- 
craft to  gain  her  wishes.  According  to  the  Times-Democrat  of 
August  5,  1888,  the  attention  of  a  household  was  one  day  at- 
tracted to  the  antics  of  old  Aunt  Dolores.  The  woman,  during  a 
thunderstorm,  was  seen  anxiously  searching  the  house  for  some- 
thing, then  to  run  out  into  the  yard,  still  hunting.  '  Hither  and 
thither  she  ran,'  stated  the  article,  'in  rapid  quest,  until  at  last 
she  stumbled  upon  the  object  of  her  search,  no  less  a  thing  than 
an  axe  for  chopping  wood  ...  a  bright  expression  of  joy  irradi- 
ated her  face.'  Snatching  up  the  axe,  Aunt  Dolores  sped  into  a 
corner  of  the  yard,  and  raising  it  above  her  head,  '  she  made  pass 
after  pass  in  the  very  face  of  the  rushing  current,  as  if  chopping 
some  invisible  thing  quickly  in  twain.'  When  a  sudden  abating 
of  the  wind's  violence  was  noticed,  the  woman  marched  back 
into  the  house,  wearing  a  defiant  look  of  triumph  on  her  rugged 
dark  face.  She  had  defied  the  evil  spirit  of  the  storm;  it  dared 
not  advance  against  her  sharp-edged  axe.  Tante  Dolores  con- 
tended that  it  never  failed  if  she  '  jest  got  there  in  time  enough. ' 

'I  never  seen  a  witch,'  admitted  Rebecca  Fletcher,  'but  my 
Grandma  knew  lots  of  'em,  and  she  done  tol'  me  plenty  times 
what  they  looks  like.  My  Grandma  told  me  about  a  witch  what 
went  into  a  good  woman's  house  when  that  woman  was  in  bed. 
That  woman  knowed  she  was  a  witch,  so  she  told  her  to  go  into 
the  other  room.  Ole  witch  went  out  and  lef  her  skin  lay  in'  on 
the  floor,  and  the  woman  jumped  out  of  bed  and  sprinkled  it  wit' 
salt  and  pepper.  Ole  witch  come  back  put  on  her  skin.  She 
start  hollerin'  and  jumpin'  up  and  down  like  she  was  crazy.  She 
yelled  and  yelled.  She  yelled,  "I  can't  stand  it!  I  can't  stand 
it!  Something's  bitin'  me!"  Ole  witch  hollered,  "Skin,  don't 
you  know  me?"  She  said  this  three  times,  but  the  salt  and 
pepper  keep  bitin'.  The  woman  took  a  broomstick  and  shooed 
that  ole  witch  right  out,  and  she  disappeared  in  the  air.' 

Rebecca  isn't  afraid  of  witches,  though,  because  she  knows 
how  to  handle  them.  'They  ain't  never  gonna  hurt  you  if  you 
knows  how  to  handle  them  and  how  to  talk  to  them.  When  you 
pass  a  place  and  feels  creepy  and  scared,  you  feels  a  ghost  or  a 
witch.  If  you  say,  "Holy  Father,  don't  let  this  thing  bother 
me,"  He  ain't  gonna  let  it  hurt  you.  Spirits  come  in  sometimes 


The  Slaves  —  231 

and  drinks  liquor  spilled  on  the  floor,  but  they  don't  make  no 
trouble.  They  gets  drunk  and  passes  you  like  steam  goin'  by.' 

Discontented  slaves  were  always  seeking  greener  pastures. 
Accounts  of  runaways  and  their  return,  notices  of  vanished  slaves 
and  of  those  found  or  captured,  appeared  almost  daily  in  the 
newspapers  of  the  pre-emancipation  period.  Professional  slave- 
catchers,  equipped  with  packs  of  bloodhounds,  chains,  guns,  and 
whips  did  a  lucrative  business  returning  runaways  either  to  their 
masters,  if  they  could  be  located,  or  to  the  jails  in  the  various 
parishes,  where  they  were  held  for  a  certain  period  and  finally, 
if  not  claimed,  auctioned. 

Brief  and  to  the  point  is  the  following  advertisement  in  The 
Bee,  February  2.6,  182.8: 

FIFTEEN  DOLLARS  REWARD 

The  above  reward  is  offered  for  the  arrest  of  the  Negro  Wench 
Nancy,  who  absconded  about  fifteen  days  since,  she  had  the 
habit  of  selling  cakes,  she  has  a  very  black  skin,  a  large  breast, 
a  fearful  look.  She  had  on  a  blue  cottonade  gown  with 
squares,  she  is  generally  at  the  port,  toward  Mr.  Morney's  — 
about  2.5  dollars  equally  offered  to  the  person  who  can  discover 
where  she  is  harbored. 

A.  LA  COUTERE 

This  one,  from  the  Louisiana  Gazette,  October  16,  1817,  did  not 
offer  much  inducement  to  the  finders : 

ONE  CENT  REWARD 

Ranaway  from  the  subscriber  about  the  ist  instant,  a 
Mulatto  Apprentice  to  the  Harness  making  business,  named 
Charles  Roche,  about  18  years  of  age.  5  feet  3  or  4  inches 
high,  sallow  complexion,  and  a  lazy  indolent  walk.  Had  on 
when  he  went  off  a  cottonade  coatee  and  pants. 

Captains  of  vessels  and  all  others,  are  warned  against  har- 
boring or  carrying  off  said  apprentice. 

H.  BEEBE 

The  next  one  is  typical  of  the  'found'  advertisements,  and 
appeared  in  the  Louisiana  Gazette,  January  4,  1816: 


2/2  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

RUNAWAY  SLAVES  KEPT  IN  JAIL       . 

Michael,  a  mullato  aged  about  38  years;  five  feet  two  inches 
high;  speaks  English  and  very  little  French;  of  middle  size. 
Said  mullato  says  he  belongs  to  Mr.  Robert  Lackey,  post- 
master of  Woodville,  from  whence  he  has  absented  himself 
since  two  months. 

The  negro  Clark,  of  the  Congo  nation,  having  some  marks 
of  his  country  on  his  forehead,  aged  about  10  years;  a  round 
face,  four  feet  nine  inches,  American  measure,  high,  speaking 
very  bad  English  and  in  the  habit  of  answering  in  Congo  the 
question  put  to  him.  Said  negro  says  he"  belongs  to  Mr.  Wil- 
liam or  Frank,  whose  residence  he  is  not  able  to  indicate. 

JACQUES  LAMOTHE,  Jailor 

This  jailor,  advertising  in  the  Daily  Picayune  on  April  4,  1840, 
seemed  anxious  to  get  rid  of  his  charge : 

Was  brought  to  the  Police  Prison  of  the  Second  Municipality 
the  following  slave,  viz : 

A  negro  woman  named  Sally,  about  2.6  years  of  age;  says  she 
belongs  to  Mr.  Kerr. 

The  owner  of  said  property  will  please  call  at  the  Police 
Prison  in  Baronne  Street,  prove  property  and  take  her  away. 

H.  S.  HARPER 
Captain  of  the  Watch 

Rather  pathetic  is  this  notice,  run  in  L'Ami  Des  Lois  Et  Journal 
Du  Commerce  on  August  8,  182.1: 

KEPT   IN   GAOL   AT   THE    PARISH   OF   ST.   JOHN   BAPTIST 
A  Negress  named  Rosalie,  between  50  and  60  years  of  age,  hav- 
ing an  iron  collar  with  three  branches.    She  does  not  remem- 
ber her  master's  name,  but  he  lives  in  Faubourg  Lacourse.    The 
owner  will  please  claim  the  said  negress  and  pay  the  costs. 

N.  TREPAGNIER,  Sheriff 

The  Iron  Collar  was  a  heavy  instrument  fitting  tightly  about 
the  throat,  about  an  inch  wide  and  having  three  branches  curv- 
ing up  around  the  face,  one  behind  the  head  and  one  on  each  side. 
Sometimes  these  branches  were  surmounted  with  brass  bells 


The  Slaves 

which  tinkled  with  every  movement.  Slaves  were  sentenced  to 
wear  the  collar  for  various  infringements  and  for  a  certain 
length  of  time.  Sometimes  it  might  not  be  removed  for  years, 
occasionally  had  to  be  worn  for  life.  After  a  first  attempt  at 
escape  a  common  sentence  was  a  given  number  of  lashes  and  six 
months  or  a  year  wearing  the  Iron  Collar. 

The  most  famous  of  all  runaways  in  Louisiana  history  was  a 
gigantic  mulatto  renowned  as  the  greatest  Bamboula  dancer  ever 
to  shake  the  earth  of  the  Congo  Square  in  New  Orleans,  and 
whose  stentorian  shouts  of  'Bamboula!  Bamboula!  Bamboula!' 
thundered  through  the  bloodstreams  of  the  voodooists  assembled 
in  the  Square. 

His  name  is  said  to  have  been  Squire  —  or  Squier  —  and  it  is 
believed  he  was  the  personal  slave  of  General  William  de  Buys, 
though  the  only  newspaper  account  of  his  ownership  mentions 
him  as  the  property  of  a  John  Berry  West,  living  somewhere  be- 
tween Plaquimine  and  Baton  Rouge.  However,  it  is  generally 
accepted  that  he  was  the  property  of  de  Buys,  and  that  he  was 
accorded  the  most  lenient  of  treatment,  accompanying  the  Gen- 
eral on  hunting  expeditions,  was  even  allowed  to  carry  arms  and 
go  on  hunts  alone.  Despite  this,  Squier  ran  away  again  and 
again.  After  one  such  escapade  he  was  shot  and  suffered  the 
amputation  of  an  arm.  Almost  immediately  he  received  the 
appellation  otBras  Coupe,  by  which  his  notoriety  spread  through- 
out the  balance  of  his  long  and  hectic  career.  He  quickly  became 
a  legendary  figure  among  both  the  white  and  colored  races  and 
his  reputation  for  daring  and  infamy  spread.  Little  children 
were  for  years  frightened  into  instant  silence  and  obedience  at 
the  mere  mention  of  the  name  of  Bras  Coupe. 

The  day  after  the  amputation  of  his  arm  hospital  attendants 
found  his  bed  empty.  He  had  vanished  into  the  near-by  cypress 
swamps,  where,  it  is  said,  he  gathered  a  band  of  renegade  slaves 
and  led  them  in  nocturnal  raids  on  the  plantations  in  the  neigh- 
borhood. Becoming  known  as  the  'Brigand  of  the  Swamp,' 
tales  of  his  prowess  and  immunity  to  death  grew.  Terrified 
hunters  returned  to  tell  of  having  shot  him,  having  seen  their 
bullets  go  through  his  body,  without  apparent  harm.  No  plan- 
tation was  safe  from  the  nocturnal  raids  of  Bras  Coupe  and  his 


2*4  — 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 


henchmen.  Female  slaves  were  sometimes  carried  off,  and  it  is 
reported  that  at  least  one  white  woman  fell  into  his  hands. 

On  April  6,  1837,  a  New  Orleans  city  guard  brought  in  a  re- 
port of  having  killed  the  Negro.  He  said  he  had  met  Bras  Coupe, 
shot  and  wounded  him  seriously.  Then,  after  being  certain  he 
was  seriously  wounded  and  helpless,  he  had  beat  him  to  death 
with  the  butt  of  his  rifle.  When  returning  officers  located  the 
spot  where  the  incident  had  occurred,  however,  there  was  no 
body,  only  a  perfectly  perceptible  trail  of  blood  where  the  '  dead 
man'  had  escaped  into  the  swamp. 

But  an  attack  on  a  white  man  finally  cost  Bras  Coupe  his  life. 
This  occurred  on  July  7,  1837,  and  The  Bee  of  July  2.0,  the  same 
year,  published  the  details  of  his  end,  in  a  story  headed  Death  of 
Squier^  telling  how  a  fisherman,  leaving  his  boat,  had  turned  at 
the  detonation  of  a  gun,  and  had  seen  a  giant  Negro  fitting  an- 
other cap  into  his  weapon.  The  fisherman  had  then  rushed  the 
brigand  and  killed  him  with  a  kind  of  crowbar,  having  to  bring 
it  down  on  his  skull  three  times. 

The  body  of  Bras  Coupe  was  then  brought  to  New  Orleans  and 
'exposed  for  inspection  on  the  public  square.  The  marks  of  the 
wounds  given  by  one  of  the  city  guards  who  had  left  the  brigand 
for  dead,  were  very  visible  and  completely  corroborated  the 
story  told  by  him,  against  which  some  discredit  had  been 
thrown.' 

Slave  uprisings  were  surprisingly  rare.  Le  Page  du  Pratz, 
friend  of  Bienville,  and  one  of  the  first  of  Louisiana  settlers,  told 
the  story  of  the  first  slave  uprising.  A  French  soldier  struck  a 
Negress  for  disobedience,  and  she  told  him  that  no  white  man 
had  a  right  to  strike  a  Negro.  For  this  impertinence  the  gov- 
ernor sent  her  to  prison,  and  suspecting  some  rebellion  in  her 
attitude,  he  began  an  investigation.  Finally,  some  slaves  were 
overheard  conversing  in  a  shack,  scheming  an  attack  on  their 
white  masters.  Eight  were  captured  and  shackled  separately. 
'  The  day  after,'  reports  du  Pratz,  '  they  were  put  to  the  torture  of 
the  burning  matches,  which,  though  several  times  repeated, 
could  not  bring  them  to  any  confession.  One  of  the  leaders  of 
the  proposed  insurrection,  a  slave  named  Samba,  was  threatened 
with  further  torture  if  he  did  not  identify  his  confederates.  He 


The  Slaves  -  255 

finally  did  this  and  the  eight  Negroes  were  sentenced  to  be 
broken  alive  on  the  wheel  and  the  woman  to  be  hanged  before 
their  eyes;  this  was  accordingly  done.' 

The  first  slaves  in  Louisiana  were  captured  Indians.  But  they 
proved  to  be  more  troublesome  than  useful  when  held  in  bond- 
age. Various  shrewd  bargainings  were  tried,  one  being  an  agree- 
ment with  agents  in  Martinique  and  St.  Lucia  by  which  three 
red  men  were  exchanged  for  three  black  ones.  This  failed,  how- 
ever; the  West  Indian  planters  refused  to  have  them  at  any  price. 
At  last  all  Indians  were  freed  and  were  finally  emancipated  by 
order  of  the  United  States  Government.  This  resulted  in  a  Negro 
uprising  near  New  Orleans,  which  was  put  dowri  with  consid- 
erable loss  of  life.  During  this  revolt,  which  occurred  in  1811, 
five  hundred  Negroes  on  the  German  Coast  marched  along  the 
levee  with  flags  and  drums,  defying  the  Whites,  and  declaring 
themselves  free.  The  insurrectionists  were  at  last  rounded  up  by 
forces  led  by  General  Hampton.  The  leaders  were  executed  in 
New  Orleans  and  their  heads  exhibited  on  posts  along  the  levee 
road. 

Behind  many  a  slave  uprising  was  the  Abolitionist  from  the 
North,  especially  after  the  American  acquisition.  As  early  as 
1839  there  was  evidence  that  such  persons  were  fomenting  dis- 
content among  the  Negroes  and  actually  promoting  disorders. 
In  the  Forties  Negroes  inspired  by  them  were  found  to  be  meeting 
in  secret  assembly  in  many  parts  of  the  State.  In  June,  1853,  New 
Orleans  newspapers  carried  the  astounding  story  of  a  plotted 
uprising.  This  insurrection  had  been  inspired  by  James  Dyson, 
an  Englishman,  who,  keeping  a  school  for  colored  boys,  was 
teaching  other  things  than  the  three  R's.  Women  members  of 
the  group  of  two  thousand  who  were  to  arise  against  the  Whites, 
were  discovered  in  a  camp  in  the  suburbs  of  New  Orleans  engag- 
ing at  making  cartridges  and  preparing  other  ammunition. 
Within  a  few  days  the  entire  city  would  have  been  in  the  hands 
of  slaves,  the  WThites  probably  massacred. 

Slave  assemblies  in  the  rural  parishes  were  discouraged  by  the 
Vigilantes,  a  citizens'  organization,  dedicated  to  the  maintenance 
of  white  supremacy,  keeping  a  watchful  eye  on  all  gatherings  of 
Negroes,  since  what  appeared  to  be  a  perfectly  innocent  dance 
frequently  turned  out  to  be  a  revolutionary  meeting. 


2j  6  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

In  1860  a  nine  o'clock  curfew  was  rigidly  imposed  in  New  Or- 
leans. At  that  hour  a  huge  bell  was  rung  nine  times  to  warn 
Negroes  to  be  in  their  quarters.  In  October,  the  same  year, 
police  closed  all  churches  in  the  city  where  Negroes,  free  or 
bonded,  assembled,  together  with  all  dance  halls  and  other 
places  where  they  might  gather,  unless  a  special  permit  was 
issued  by  the  mayor  of  the  city. 

Living  ex-slaves  remember  the  day  when  freedom  came  with 
conflicting  emotions.  Most  slaves  were  confused  and  like  lost 
children,  many  exhibited  strange  reactions  to  emancipation. 

'  The  day  we  was  set  free,'  said  Silas  Shotfore,  '  us  did  not  know 
what  to  do.  Our  Missus  said  we  could  stay  on  the  place,  but  my 
Pa  didn't  want  to.  We  hung  around  a  few  days  then  Pa  went 
to  work  so  we  could  get  something  to  eat.  You  see,  we  didn't 
have  a  thing  and  peoples  was  so  ignorant  they  didn't  have  no 
sense  like  they  got  now.  I  seen  my  Ma  work  plenty  weeks  just 
for  a  peck  of  meal.' 

Henry  Reed  told  how  he  felt  when  freedom  came. 

'I  was  about  nine  years  old,'  Henry  figured,  'and  I  can  re- 
member when  the  steamboat  came  up  the  river  and  a  man  hol- 
lered, "You're  free!  You're  free!"  Everybody  yelled  and  cut 
up  so,  I  was  scared  'cause  I  didn't  understand  what  it  was  all 
about.  You  know  after  the  war  was  over  lots  of  families  split. 
Husbands  go  one  way,  wifes  the  other.  Lots  of  colored  women 
left  their  childrens.  I  remembers  some  throwed  their  babies  in 
the  river  and  in  the  bayous.' 

Rebecca  Fletcher  recalled,  'After  freedom  come  we  was  on 
our  own  and  we  sure  had  a  hard  time.  We  made  our  own  soap 
by  saving  bones  and  stuff  like  that.' 

On  most  plantations  there  were  Negroes,  particularly  house 
servants,  who  were  faithful  to  their  former  owners  and  remained, 
often  working  exactly  as  if  nothing  had  occurred,  without  wages 
and  without  wanting  them.  Mammies  could  not  be  pried  loose 
from  their  '  chillun,'  and  many  of  the  old  '  Uncles'  displayed  the 
same  affection  for  the  white  folk  who  had  kept  them  all  these 
years.  In  many  cases  some  of  the  field  hands  stayed  on  their 
jobs,  but  now  that  the  transition  had  occurred  the  '  Marse'  some- 
times worked  side  by  side  with  them,  and  the  'Missus'  fed  the 


The  Slaves  —  2/7 

chickens  and  performed  other  chores.  Often  the  family  was  im- 
poverished and  every  member  of  the  group  had  to  do  his  share 
so  that  there  would  be  sufficient  food  for  them  all. 

But,  in  general,  the  plight  of  the  slaves  was  pathetic.  Most 
fled  in  the  first  wave  of  elation  at  this  new  '  freedom, '  and  found 
themselves  completely  unable  to  earn  a  livelihood.  Little  Ne- 
groes were  put  into  asylums,  except  for  a  few  very  light  ones  who 
were  adopted  by  white  families. 

The  Daily  Picayune.,  August  3,  1867,  tells  of  the  long  line  of 
anxious  Negresses  who  flanked  the  Poydras  Market  in  New  Or- 
leans day  after  day,  looking  for  work,  of  their  tramping  the 
streets,  going  from  door  to  door  pleading  for  odd  jobs  so  they 
could  buy  food,  a  few  of  them  even  women  who  had  enjoyed  the 
best  of  meals  as  house  servants  on  the  great  plantations,  who 
might  have  been  pets  of  the  families  that  had  owned  them. 
Negroes  became  beggars,  squatters  on  the  levees,  criminals. 

Matilda  Jones,  ex-slave,  talked  of  wars  and  marriage. 

'You  see  I've  seen  a  lot  of  misery  in  my  time  'sides  wars.  I 
done  had  six  husbands.  I  seen  two  of  them  in  their  coffins  and 
the  rest  just  went  away.  They  was  all  the  most  triflin'  niggers  I 
ever  knowed.  If  I'd  done  tried  I  couldn't  have  picked  worser 
ones.  I  always  been  careful,  though,  and  I  ain't  never  had  two 
or  more  husbands  at  the  same  exact  time.  I  been  mighty  par- 
ticular about  that.  I  don't  believe  in  havin'  your  husbands  in 
bunches.  I  is  a  member  of  the  church  and  I  can't  stand  for  no 
'sinuations  'bout  my  conduct.  I  never  married  one  husband  'til 
the  last  one  was  dead  or  out  of  the  parish.' 

Matilda  sighed.  'The  poor  old  husband  I  got  now,  he's 
starvin'  to  death  before  my  eyes.  You  can  count  his  ribs.' 

'Sometimes,'  said  Annie  Flowers,  'we  still  sets  and  talks  of 
plantation  days,  and  cuttin'  the  cane  in  the  field;  and  we  sings, 

Rains  come  wit'  me, 
Sun  come  dry  me. 
Stay  back,  boss  man, 
Don't  come  nigh  me. 

'  Sometimes  I  thinks  them  days  was  happier,  sometimes  these. 
But  so  much  trouble  done  gone  over  this  old  haid  I  ain't  sure  of 
nothin'  no  more.  I  jest  don't  know.' 


Chapter  13 


Burled  Treasure 


'THERE  SURE  IS  PLENTY  OF  TREASURE  BURIED  IN 
Louisiana,  but  you  gotta  be  careful  of  them  spirits.  They  do 
some  funny  things.  I  knew  one  real  well  what  would  come  to 
my  house  all  the  time.  He  would  get  behind  a  door  and  milk  a 
towel,  and  all  the  cows  in  the  neighborhood  would  go  dry.-'io 

That  is  the  warning  of  Gaston  la  Cocq,  who  has  spent  years 
searching  for  buried  wealth.  But  Gaston  knows  how  to  handle 
these  guardian  phantoms. 

'  You  have  to  take  a  spirit  controller  with  you/  he  says.  '  And 
you  have  to  be  a  mixed  crowd;  some  white  and  some  colored. 
You  see,  when  your  controller  talks  to  the  ghost  that  thing's 
gonna  say  if  white  or  colored  men  should  dig,  and  it  means  one 
or  the  other  has  to  do  all  the  work.  That's  the  way  it  goes. 

'All  buried  treasure  has  got  spirits  watching  over  it.  Like 
Lafitte.  You  know  how  he  used  to  do?  He  would  take  five  or 
six  men  along  to  hide  his  stuff,  and  he  would  tell  them  all  but 
one  who  he  was  gonna  have  kilt.  The  one  he  picked  was  the  one 
what  would  be  the  spirit  to  watch  his  treasure  forever.  After 
they  buried  all  the  gold  and  silver  and  jools,  Lafitte  would  say 
very  quiet,  "Now,  who's  gonna  guard  my  stuff?"  and  the  man 


Buried  Treasure 

who  didn't  know  no  better  would  want  to  shine  with  his  boss 
and  he'd  say,  "I  will."  Then  he  would  get  kilt.  Of  course, 
Lafitte  didn't  shoot  him,  himself.  He  was  the  general  and  he 
always  stayed  in  the  back.  You  know  how  generals  don't  never 
get  near  to  where  the  shooting  is  at.' 

Gaston's  spirit  controller  is  named  Tom  Pimpton,  and  he's  a 
colored  man.  He  has  been  hunting  for  treasure  for  years,  too,  and 
is  one  of  the  best  controllers  in  the  State.  Practically  all  his 
knowledge,  you  see,  has  come  from  the  Book  of  Hoyle,  the  Book  of 
Moses,  Little  Albert  and  the  Long-Lost  Friend.  He  purchased  these 
mystic  volumes  from  a  Sears  Roebuck  catalogue,  and  he  consid- 
ers them  priceless,  for  you  can  hardly  buy  them  nowadays.  Tom 
devotes  himself  exclusively  to  the  supernatural  angle  of  the 
treasure -hunting  business. 

'I  just  masters  them  spirits,'  he  says.  'I  don't  dig;  anybody 
can  do  that.  I  just  fights  the  spirits.  There  ain't  none  of  'em  can 
mess  with  me. 

'There's  land  spirits  and  there's  water  spirits,  and  you  gotta 
know  how  to  talk  to  both  kinds.  The  land  spirits  is  bad  and  the 
water  spirits  is  good.  They  got  seven  kinds  of  land  spirits;  that's 
part  of  the  trouble.  There  is  bulls,  lions,  dogs,  babies,  snakes, 
persons  and  pearls.  When  you  see  a  cat,  that's  a  bad  one  and  if 
you  ain't  careful  your  hole's  gonna  lap  up  water  right  as  you  dig. 

'You  gotta  be  careful  and  you  gotta  be  clean.  You  gotta  suf- 
fer, too.  The  man's  gotta  suffer  and  the  woman's  gotta  suffer. 
You  sure  can't  touch  no  woman,  not  even  your  wife,  for  four 
days  'fore  you  start  out. 

'If  something  is  wrong  you  knows  it  right  away.  You  can't 
ever  fool  a  spirit.  Your  treasure  is  sure  to  start  sinking  and  slip- 
ping, and  once  it  sinks  it  ain't  coming  up  again  for  seven  years. 
Last  time  I  was  out  you  know  a  fool  man  done  gone  and  forgot 
and  left  his  Buzz  tobacco  in  his  pocket?  You  can't  be  careless 
like  that  and  'spect  to  find  treasure. 

'  Sometimes  when  your  treasure  slips  you  can  tie  it  up,  but  you 
gotta  use  white  silk  thread.  Ain't  nothing  else  gonna  hold  it. 

'When  you  go  out  you  use  your  divining  rod  or  a  finding- 
machine  until  you  knows  where  the  treasure  is  at.  Then  you 
drives  sticks  in  the  ground  in  a  circle  and  stretches  a  clothesline 


z  6 o  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

around  it.  Never  use  no  wire!  Your  ring's  gotta  be  thirteen 
feets  to  the  east,  thirteen  feets  to'  the  south,  thirteen  feets  to  the 
west  and  thirteen  feets  to  the  north.  You  leaves  a  gate  in  the 
east  side  for  your  men  to  come  through,  then  you  closes  it  up. 
Once  your  mens  get  inside  that  ring,  nobody  can't  talk,  nobody 
can't  sweat,  nobody  can't  spit.  And  don't  let  nobody  throw 
dirt  outside  that  ring,  'cause  that  brings  bad  spirits. 

'Soon  as  I  gets  my  mens  in  the  ring  I  'noints  them  on  the  fore- 
head with  Special  Delivery  Oil.  That  oil's  expensive;  it  costs  me 
five  dollars  an  ounce.  You  see,  I  won't  mess  with  none  of  them 
cheap  oils  what  has  been  'dulterated. 

'After  everybody  been  'nointed  I  reads  the  Twenty-Third 
Psalm  with  them  all  joining  hands  and  repeating  the  words  after 
me.  Then  I  reads  the  Ninety-First  Psalm  to  myself.  Next  I  gotta 
read  page  87  and  page  53  from  the  Book  of  Moses.  Page  53  has  got 
the  Master's  Seal  on  it  and  you  gotta  know  that  by  heart. 

'Sometimes  I  takes  liquor  along  when  I  go  out.  Some  spirits 
likes  liquor.  They  is  call  the  drunken  spirits. 

'I  done  dug  up  plenty  of  treasure  in  my  time.  I  just  made  up 
my  budget  the  other  day  and  I  needs  $40,000.  I'll  get  it  easy. 
Shucks,  that  ain't  no  money.  Me  and  a  friend  of  mine  dug  up 
$65,000  apiece  over  in  Gretna  one  day.  Had  a  big  snake  standing 
straight  up  in  the  air  over  it;  he  was  tall  as  me  and  big  enough 
around  to  hug.  I  just  walked  up  and  talked  to  it  like  it  was  a 
baby,  and  it  crawled  away.  Underneath  we  found  a  great  big 
mess  of  gold. 

'The  best  treasure  I  ever  found  was  a  diamond  the  size  of  a 
brick  out  of  the  banquette.  It  was  wrapped  in  kidskin  and  had 
Lafitte's  name  carved  in  it.  It  was  worth  about  $1,500,000,  and 
it  was  setting  in  a  kettle  of  $5,000,000  worth  of  gold  coins.  I 
spent  all  that  on  my  wife  when  she  was  sick  and  I  just  saved 
enough  out  of  it  to  marry  this  here  wife  I  got  now. 

'It's  an  easy  way  to  get  money,  but  you  sure  gotta  be  careful. 
When  you  is  digging  funny  things  happen.  Trees  begin  to  fall, 
and  fences  come  tumbling  down  and  the  whole  earth  shakes  and 
makes  a  loud  rumbling  sound.  Spirits  don't  never  like  to  give 
up  their  treasure.' 

Louisianians  have  been  dreaming  of  finding  buried  wealth  for 


Buried  Treasure  — 261 

years,  and  practically  everybody  believes  there  is  much  to  be 
found.  The  first  white  settlers  found  Indian  tribes  wearing  mas- 
sive ornaments  of  gold  and  silver.  •  When  they  began  to  murder 
the  Indians  for  their  trinkets,  the  valuables  promptly  vanished. 
Pirates  operated  for  years  in  the  Gulf  of  Mexico  and  through  the 
maze  of  Louisiana  bayous,  supposedly  burying  loot  on  every 
island  and  in  every  swamp.  Rich  wagon  trains  are  reported  to 
have  been  lost  in  the  swamps,  too.  Along  the  coasts  gold-laden 
ships  were  wrecked.  Plantation-owners,  fleeing  Union  troops 
during  the  War  Between  the  States,  committed  family  wealth  to 
the  comparative  safety  of  the  earth.  Everybody  in  the  State  has 
a  great-grandmother  who  sunk  the  silver  plate  in  the  well  and 
buried  caskets  of  jewels  in  the  backyard.  It  is  all  wonderful  and 
appeals  to  the  getting-something-for-nothing  desire  in  human 
nature.  All  these  things  await  the  treasure-hunter,  if  he  can 
perform  the  tasks.  Many  try.  Some  just  go  out  and  dig.  Others 
employ  systems  as  elaborate  and  as  detailed  as  Tom  Pimpton's. 

Leaving  it  to  luck  seems  actually  to  be  the  most  profitable 
method.  At  Shell  Beach  on  Lake  Borgne,  children  playing  near 
the  water's  edge  found  Spanish  coins  mingled  with  the  shells. 
At  Thompson's  Creek  near  McManus,  doubloons  coined  during 
the  reign  of  Charles  IV  were  found  in  a  gravel  pit.  A  farmer  near 
Ruston  shattered  his  plow  blade  on  an  old  iron  chest  which 
showered  forth  more  than  1000  coins.  Another  farmer,  in  Avoy- 
elles  Parish,  uncovered  an  iron  pot  filled  with  3000  gold  pieces. 
A  fisherman  on  Barataria  Island,  removing  flagstones  from  the 
fireplace  of  a  deserted  house,  discovered  a  tin  box  beneath  in 
which  were  doubloons,  jewelry  and  a  silver  image  of  the  Virgin. 
Cutting  down  trees  in  Opelousas,  a  citizen  turned  up  485  gold 
pieces  of  Spanish  origin.  There  was  an  epidemic  of  digging  on 
Pecan  Island  in  192.5,  after  someone  bragged  of  finding  coins 
there,  and  searchers  even  uprooted  giant  oak  trees.  One  man 
searched  on  Kelso's  Island  for  more  than  twenty  years,  firmly 
believing  Jean  Lafitte  had  buried  immense  wealth  there. 

Pierre  Rameau  and  his  Chats-Huants  (Screech  Owls),  a  no- 
torious band  of  buccaneers,  had  their  base  of  operations  at  Honey 
Island.  Wounded  while  fighting  in  the  battle  of  New  Orleans, 
both  arms  rendered  useless,  Rameau  escaped  to  a  plantation  home 


262  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

owned  by  friends.  Here,  however,  he  met  a  man  named  Vasseur, 
once  an  associate,  but  now  his  mortal  enemy.  Vasseur  sprang  at 
him  with  a  knife,  crying,  'Die,  Pierre  Rameau!  Die!  Die!' 

Rameau  kicked  out  and  sent  Vasseur  spinning  across  the  room. 
Then,  crashing  through  the  door,  he  fled  to  a  near-by  swamp. 
Days  later  his  body  was  recovered. 

Of  course,  it  is  believed  much  treasure  was  buried  on  Honey 
Island  by  the  Screech  Owls,  and  once  two  hunters  stumbled  over 
an  iron  chest  filled  with  Mexican  money  dating  from  1817,  and 
worth  about  $1000.  These  coins  must  have  been  cached  on  the 
island  long  after  Rameau's  demise,  yet  there  was  an  immediate 
and  feverish  rush  to  the  spot.  Nothing  else  was  ever  found. 

John  Patorno  of  New  Orleans  is  probably  the  most  scientific 
treasure-seeker  in  the  State,  and  the  most  practical.  Patorno  has 
invented  a  mechanism  to  locate  treasure,  a  radio  device  with  an 
affinity  for  non-magnetic  metals,  and  this  he  rents,  together  with 
his  services,  for  twenty-five  dollars  a  day.  He  has  done  a  thriving 
business. 

When  an  Algiers  ferry  pilot,  named  Clarke,  found  a  map  show- 
ing the  location  of  buried  Lafitte  loot  on  Coca  Island,  he  went  to 
Patorno  for  assistance.  An  investigation  seemed  to  give  credence 
to  the  existence  of  the  treasure . 

More  than  a  century  ago,  said  legend,  two  of  Lafitte 's  hench- 
men deposited  several  chests  of  silver  on  the  island,  then  staged 
a  drunken  brawl.  When  it  was  over  one  of  the  buccaneers  was 
dead  and  the  other  not  far  from  it.  A  fisherman  nursed  the  in^ 
jured  man  back  to  health  and  in  gratitude  the  pirate  gave  him 
the  map  showing  where  the  chests  were  buried.  This  the  fisher- 
man passed  down  to  his  descendants,  and  it  was  from  one  of  these 
that  Clarke  had  obtained  it. 

Clarke,  Patorno  and  a  group  of  assistants  set  out  for  Coca 
Island  at  once.  This  island  is  not  easily  reached,  and  even  after 
landing,  it  was  days  before  they  found  the  spot.  Then  the  Pa- 
torno diviner  began  to  buzz.  Excavations  were  begun,  but  the 
soft  and  sandy  soil  presented  a  formidable  problem,  often  filling 
with  slimy  water  as  soon  as  dug.  Tom  Pimpton  would  have  said 
there  was  a  ghost-cat  or  something  of  the  sort  about. 

On  the  third  day  the  whole  side  of  a  pit  gave  way  and  two  of 


Buried  Treasure  -263 

the  men,  caught  in  an  avalanche  of  mud  and  sand,  narrowly 
escaped  being  killed.  Rather  than  risk  lives,  Patorno  refused  to 
continue  the  search  after  that.  So,  if  legend  and  the  map  told 
the  truth,  treasure  still  lies  buried  on  Coca  Island. 

More  of  Jean  Lafitte 's  loot  is  supposed  to  be  hidden  in  the 
Mississippi  bluffs  near  Baton  Rouge.  A  farmer  digging  there 
enjoyed  a  golden  moment  of  elation  when  his  spade  struck  what 
appeared  to  be  an  old  chest.  It  turned  out  to  be  an  old  coffin, 
with  nothing  inside  but  a  skeleton.  Grand  Isle,  where  this  most 
famed  Louisiana  buccaneer  had  headquarters,  has,  naturally, 
innumerable  myths  of  buried  gold.  But  Niblett's  Bluff,  near 
Lake  Charles,  tops  them  all  with  the  display  of  a  huge  sign 
reading : 

LAFITTE  BURIED  HIS  TREASURE 
BENEATH  FORTY  GUM  TREES  HERE! 

Tales  of  hidden  Lafitte  treasure  increase  from  year  to  year,  yet, 
on  the  other  hand,  authorities  agree  that  Lafitte  was  without 
funds  when  he  departed  the  Louisiana  scene,  and  that  it  is  de- 
cidedly unlikely  that  he  would  have  left  such  immense  wealth 
behind. 

Residents  of  Calcasieu  Parish  have  tried  many  times  to  find 
the  Lost  Mine  of  Wyndham  Creek,  subject  of  one  of  the  best- 
known  stories  of  the  De  Quincey  section.  Early  pioneers  told 
yarns  of  an  Indian-owned  gold  mine  somewhere  along  Wyndham 
Creek.  Many  persons  have  searched  in  vain.  There  are  no  more 
redmen  in  the  section,  and  their  secret,  if  any,  died  with  them. 
At  the  turn  of  the  twentieth  century  three  men  hunting  for  the 
mine  were  found  brutally  murdered.  Even  now  a  woman  living 
at  Lunita  claims  to  have  wandered  into  a  gold  mine  one  day, 
while  lost  in  the  woods.  She  has  never  been  able  to  retrace  her 
steps,  though  she  has  tried  many  times. 

In  192.4  scores  of  individuals  dug  in  Lakeside  Park  at  Shreve- 
port,  after  a  rumor  spread  of  pirate  gold  to  be  found  there.  A 
Negro  claimed  to  have  seen  a  man  carry  off  twenty  thousand 
dollars'  worth  of  coins.  When  the  city  decided  to  create  a  park 
on  the  site  their  principal  job  was  filling  holes  left  by  the 
searchers, 


2  64  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

The  New  Orleans  Daily  Picayune  of  April  i,  1869,  told  an  amaz- 
ing story  of  a  treasure-trove  in  New  Orleans 's  Jackson  Square. 
The  newspaper  said' that  the  evening  before  two  citizens  were 
conversing  near  the  equestrian  statue  of  General  Jackson  when 
one  noticed  what  appeared  to  be  a  small  iron  pin  in  the  seam  of 
one  of  the  granite  blocks.  Putting  his  cane  against  it  a  wooden 
door,  painted  to  blend  with  the  marble,  swung  open  and  within 
was  a  vault  about  five  feet  square,  literally  crammed  with  gold 
and  silver  coins,  even  nuggets.  Scattered  about  were  watches, 
jewelry  and  unset  gems.  An  open  casket  overflowed  with  dia- 
monds, emeralds  and  other  precious  stones.  The  newspaper 
asked,  was  this  the  hiding  place  of  a  gang  of  thieves?  It  is  worth 
noting  that  the  story  appeared  April  i.  April  Fool's  Day. 

However,  most  treasure-hunting  in  Louisiana  is  a  serious  mat- 
ter and  not  to  be  approached  in  any  haphazard  manner,  but  is 
brimful  of  rules  and  superstitions.  When  you  note  the  strange 
and  harrowing  occurrences  which  have  taken  place,  you  can't 
blame  experts  like  Tom  Pimpton  for  not  taking  chances  by  using 
a  wrong  procedure. 

'  A  bunch  of  us  gathered  to  dig  in  a  certain  place  just  after  mid- 
night,' said  one  New  Orleans  man.  'Suddenly  chickens  started 
coming  out  of  the  hole  we  had  made.  First  come  a  rooster,  crow- 
ing to  beat  hell.  Then  he  vanished  in  a  puff  of  smoke.  Then  the 
chickens  come,  one  by  one,  every  one  of  them  vanishing  just  like 
the  rooster.  Last  of  all,  a  horse  come  trotting  right  out  of  the 
ground.  He  was  breathing  smoke  and  had  fire  coming  out  of  his 
eyes  and  ears.  We  left  after  that.  That  treasure  can  stay  put  for 
all  I  care.' 

1  When  I  got  married  I  wore  a  fork-tailed  coat,'  said  Wilkinson 
Jones,  native  of  McDonoughville.  'Me  and  my  wife  had  a  real 
nice  wedding.  Her  name  was  Emma.  But  I  tell  you,  the  spirits 
had  been  bothering  me  all  my  life,  and  after  I  got  married  they 
seemed  to  be  worse.  Still  I  think  you  need  them  when  you  go 
treasure-hunting.  If  you  let  spirits  tell  you  where  the  treasure 
is  at  and  that  it's  okay  to  dig  it  up,  you  ain't  facing  much 
trouble.  But  if  you  just  head  out  without  asking  'em,  you  mak- 
ing things  bad  for  yourself.  There  ain't  no  treasure  anywhere 
what  ain't  got  its  spirit  watching  it.  One  time  I  was  digging  for 


Buried  Treasure 

Lafitte's  treasure  in  that  old  shell  pile  down  by  Lake  Salvadore, 
and  I  had  an  evil-hearted  man  with  me.  I  should  have  known 
better 'n  to  take  him  along,  but  you  know  how  it  is.  Anyway, 
we  dug  until  we  hit  one  of  them  oldtime  iron  chests.  Right  then 
the  spirits  started  coming  running  out  of  that  hole,  whooping 
and  hollering.  We  never  is  went  back  there.  Any  time  you  dig 
for  treasure  you  are  bound  to  meet  spirits.  If  you  never  seen  one 
before  you  gonna  then.' 

A  story  prevalent  around  Hubbardville  tells  of  a  planter's 
burying  much  money  and  silver  plate  before  departing  for  the 
War  Between  the  States.  When  he  did  not  return,  the  abandoned 
slaves  who  had  buried  the  wealth  for  their  master  decided  to  dig 
it  up.  They  went  to  the  spot  and  one  jabbed  his  shovel  into  the 
earth.  Great  flames  shot  heavenward.  The  Negroes  fled  and,  if 
the  story  is  true,  the  wealth  still  lies  beneath  the  plantation  soil. 

Legends  of  pirates  wandering  up  the  Pontchatoulu  River  have 
brought  searchers  to  that  section.  Once  a  white  man  and  two 
Negroes  dug  a  deep  hole  in  a  certain  place.  Suddenly  a  hoarse 
voice  began  to  scream  and  curse,  emanating  from  the  chasm,  and 
the  men  departed  the  scene  in  haste.  In  this  section  of  the  State 
'Jack  o' Lanterns,'  the  elusive  phosphorescent  swamp  lights,  are 
common  and  are  here  believed  to  lead  to  buried  pirate  gold. 

The  superstitions  connected  with  this  business  of  treasure- 
hunting  are  numerous.  The  following  are  the  ones  most  reli- 
giously believed  and  followed : 

The  best  day  to  find  treasure  is  the  second  day  of  the  full  moon. 

The  best  time  to  dig  for  treasure  is  during  a  full  moon. 

The  best  time  of  the  day  to  dig  is  between  9  A.M.  and  4  P.M. 

If  you  talk,  spit,  curse  or  sweat  while  digging  you  will  find  none. 

A  sleepwalker  will  eventually  lead  you  to  buried  treasure. 

Lights  bobbing  up  and  down  in  the  swamps  will  lead  you  to 
treasure. 

Lights  bobbing  up  and  down  in  the  swamps  will  just  get  you 
lost. 

A  dream  of  a  light  over  a  spot  means  treasure  is  there. 

Lights  are  liable  to  appear  wherever  there  is  treasure. 

If  treasure  is  buried  with  a  rooster's  head,  the  rooster  will  crow 
when  the  rightful  heir  to  the  wealth  approaches  the  spot. 

No  one  who  has  ever  shed  blood  can  hope  to  find  treasure. 


266  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

A  certain  Mr.  Bald  of  Bogalusa  gave  warning  against  over- 
looking that  last  rule. 

'Well,  when  you  go  out  looking  for  treasure,'  said  Mr.  Bald, 
'you  got  to  take  a  sounding  rod,  someone  who  can  talk  to  spirits 
and  a  Bible.  Don't  never  go  with  a  murderer.  Me  and  five  other 
fellows  went  into  an  old  house  near  here  once  that  was  haunted 
and  so  bound  to  have  money  hidden  somewhere  in  it.  We  found 
a  trapdoor  in  the  dining-room  floor.  There  was  steps  going 
down,  and*  after  the  man  who  knew  spirits  knocked  to  see  if  any 
was  around,  we  started  down  those  steps.  We  got  just  about 
halfway  when  the  place  began  to  fill  with  water.  I  don't  know 
where  it  came  from.  It  got  so  high  we  had  to  turn  back.  Just 
then  we  seen  a  big  rat  run  across  the  top  of  the  water.  The  man 
who  knew  spirits-  said  that  rat  was  a  spirit,  and  that  someone 
among  us  must  be  a  murderer.  We  all  looked  at  each  other  hard, 
but,  of  course,  nobody  would  admit  he  was  the  one,  so  we  all  had 
to  leave/ 

Divining  rods  of  various  types  are  used  as  aids  in  locating 
treasure,  and  mechanical  devices  of  all  kinds  are  invented  for  the 
same  purpose.  Many  persons  advertise  their  particular  mechan- 
ism for  sale  or  for  rent.  For  instance,  the  New  Orleans  Times- 
Picayune  ran  the  following  in  its  Personal  Column  on  March  12., 
1930: 

TREASURE  HUNTERS 

Buried  treasure  accurately  located  by  radio  device.  Reason- 
ably priced.  Portable  and  simple  to  operate.  Free  demonstra- 
tion. 

R.  D.  Burchard 

816  American  Bank  Bldg. 

Phone  Ma.  6688 

There  is  some  disagreement  as  to  the  virtues  of  types  of  divin- 
ing rods.  Tom  Pimpton  says:  ' The  best  divining  rod  is  a  piece  of 
steel  about  a  yard  long  and  as  thick  as  a  broomstick.  It's  sort  of 
like  a  magnet  and  when  it  is  placed  in  the  ground  where  the 
treasure  is  at,  it  bends  itself  over  like.  You  sure  got  treasure 
then.' 

Eugene  Mumford,  colored  worker  at  the  New  Orleans  French 
Market,  says :  '  A  branch  from  a  witch-hazel  tree  with  a  fork  at 


Buried  Treasure  —  2^7 

the  end  is  what  I  always  use.  It  makes  a  better  divining  rod  'n 
steel,  and  you  can  use  it  to  find  either  treasure  or  water.  Go  right 
along  with  it  in  your  hand,  and  as  you  go  stick  it  in  the  ground 
and  sound  the  earth.  If  that  branch  weaves  to  and  fro,  there's 
water  or  treasure  there.' 

But  probably  the  most  remarkable  of  all  is  the  one  used  in 
Saint  John  the  Baptist  Parish,  A  colored  resident  explained:  'A 
real  divinin'  rod  is  a  piece  of  iron  just  like  a  rod  in  an  iron  bed, 
'cept  it's  got  little  pieces  of  iron  stickin'  out  on  one  end.  You 
just  set  it  up  in  the  ground  in  front  of  you  and  it  starts  hoppin' 
along  and  all  you  got  to  do  is  follow  it.  When  it  gets  to  a  place 
where  treasure  is,  it's  gonna  start  jumpin'  up  and  down  over  that 
one  spot.  Then  you  can  start  your  digginV 

Each  one  is  positive  his  divining  rod  is  the  best  and  the  others 
practically  no  good  at  all. 

As  Tom  Pimpton  always  says,  '  Hell,  some  of  them  divining 
rods  ain't  good  for  nothing  but  finding  old  toilets!' 

TABLE  OF  BURIED  TREASURE  IN  LOUISIANA 
LOCALE  HISTORY 

Ruins  of  old  fort  at  Bara-  L.  Counobo,  a  fisherman,  needing  bricks  for  a 
taria,  1841  furnace  on  which  to  boil  kettles  of  pitch,  re- 

moved a  flagstone  from  an  old  fireplace  and 
found  a  box  containing  Spanish  doubloons, 
gold  earrings  and  a  silver  image  of  the  Virgin. 

Coillon  Island,  1851  Rumors  spread  that  $2.0,000  in  gold  was  found 

here  that  year. 

Bayou  Chicot,  near  Ope-  Fritz  Lertz,  cutting  down  trees,  found  coins  of 
lousas,  September,  1851  German  mintage,  mostly  dated  1813.  There 

were  about  300  of  them,  each  worth  $4.85. 

Breaux  Bridge  Death  Jceeps  the  secret  of  the  lost  treasure  here. 

In  the  early  nineteenth  century  slaves  murdered 
their  master,  Narcisse  Thibodeaux,  and  fled 
with  his  gold .  Captured  by  irate  white  men  of 
the  section,  the  nine  Negroes  were  forced  to  dig 
a  deep  trench,  and  were  shot  and  buried  therein. 
It  was  not  until  some  time  afterward  that, 
checking  the  gold,  it  was  discovered  that  one 
whole  sack  was  missing,  and  its  whereabouts 
now  hidden  forever. 


z68  — 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 


Corner  of  Orleans  and  Bour- 
bon Streets,  New  Orleans, 
1859 

Highway  between  Convent 
and  Lutcher 


Grand  Ecore,   near  Natchi- 
toches 

Western  Isle  of  the  Chande- 
leur  group,  1871 


Isle  de  Gombi 
Linceum 


Banks  of  the  Tensas  River 


Grand  Isle 


Marks ville,   Avoyelles   Par- 
ish 


An  impoverished  charcoal  peddler,  repairing 
the  flooring  in  his  home,  found  a  box  contain- 
ing 1500  doubloons,  dating  from  the  Lafitte  era. 

Along  here  is  an  Indian  mound  fifty  feet  high. 
Silverware  and  other  valuables  from  near-by 
plantations  were  buried  here  during  the  War 
Between  the  States,  it  is  said.  Yet  men  once 
dug  more  than  forty  feet  and  found  only  bones 
and  palmetto  leaves. 

Much  wealth  is  believed  to  have  been  buried  in 
this  vicinity  during  the  occupation  of  Union 
forces. 

A  man  was  drowned  here  that  year  trying  to 
find  three  chests  of  Spanish  doubloons  and  some 
rough  diamonds.  For  three  generations  his 
family  had  unceasingly  sought  this  supposedly 
pirate  loot,  claiming  to  have  positive  proof  of 
its  existence. 

It  has  been  long  believed  that  buccaneers  buried 
great  wealth  here. 

A  party  of  men  carrying  a  vast  amount  of  gold 
through  the  Louisiana  wilderness  in  the  early 
days  were  here  set  upon  by  Indians.  To  travel 
faster  and  so  escape  the  gold  was  hastily  buried. 
But  before  the  end  of  the  journey  the  men  quar- 
reled and  fought  among  themselves  and  all 
were  killed.  The  gold  is  yet  to  be  found. 

A  Colonel  Frisbee  wTas  building  a  mansion  here 
when  the  War  Between  the  States  broke  out. 
He  ordered  a  wagonload  of  gold  buried  near  the 
half-completed  house.  It  has  never  been  recov- 
ered, and  folk  in  the  neighborhood  believe  it  to 
be  guarded  by  the  phantom  of  a  giant  black 
panther! 

Jean  Lafitte' s  headquarters,  and  so  presumed  to 
conceal  many  caches  of  treasure.  Nothing  has 
ever  been  found. 

Valuables  are  believed  to  be  buried  on  the  site 
of  an  Indian  village.  One  man  spent  years  con- 
structing an  elaborate  mechanism  to  locate  the 
treasure,  but  had  no  success.  Also,  near  here,  a 
farmer  uncovered  an  iron  pot  in  his  field  which 
contained  3000  pieces  of  silver. 


Buried  Treasure 


Parlange  Plantation,  Pointe 
Coupee  Parish 

Honey  Island,  St.  Tammany 
Parish,  1907 

Fairfield    Plantation,  Jeffer- 
son Parish 


Adam    Dufresne's   -Village, 
Bayou  Pirogue,  Jefferson 
Parish 

Kelso's  Island,  between 
Cameron  and  Calcasieu  Par- 
ishes 

Wyndham    Creek,     Beaure- 

gard  Parish 

Mississippi  bluffs  at  Baton 

Rouge 


Berthoud    Cemetery,    Bara- 
taria 

Houma,  Terrebonne  Parish 


Old  bed  of  the  Red  River 
near  Dixie,  1914 


Ruston,  1916 
Milneburg,  1917 


A  planter  buried  $300,00x3  worth  of  silver  here 
during  the  War  Between  the  States,  a  part  of 
which  has  never  been  recovered. 

Two  hunters  found  chest  containing  Mexican 
coins  worth  $1000. 

As  Admiral  Farragut  came  up  the  river  during 
the  War  Between  the  States  a  planter  buried  his 
valuables  in  the  battures  near-by.  In  192.8  a 
mysterious  dark  lady  with  a  tattered  map  staged 
a  search,  but  with  no  success. 

Twin  oaks  with  roots  pointing  south  are  sup- 
posed to  mark  the  location  of  pirate  gold.  Folk 
of  the  vicinity  are  always  digging,  and  hoping. 

It  is  whispered  that  the  pirate  loot  buried  here 
is  enormous,  more  than  a  million  dollars  in 
gold,  but  no  one  knows  where  it  is. 

The  famous  'Lost  Mine  of  Wyndham  Creek.' 

A  farmer  digging  here,  where  Lafitte  is  said  to 
have  buried  treasure,  hit  what  at  first  appeared 
to  be  an  old  chest,  but  turned  out  to  be  only  an 
old  coffin  with  a  skeleton  in  it. 

Very  old,  it  is  supposedly  built  over  an  Indian 
mound.  Many  people  have  dug  here,  but,  so 
far  as  is  known,  have  found  nothing. 

Men  dug  near  here  one  day,  returned  the  next  to 
find  the  holes  mysteriously  filled.  The  same 
thing  happened  four  or  five  days  in  succession 
and  the  men  became  frightened  and  gave  up. 

Jake  Shelton  of  Hosston,  digging  in  the  mud  for 
fishing  bait,  struck  the  trade  boat  Monterey, 
long  buried  there.  He  hoped  for  gold,  but 
found  only  cowbells,  dog  chains  and  a  barrel 
that  had  once  held  pickled  pork. 

John  Skinner,  farmer,  found  a  chest  in  his  field 
holding  1000  old  coins  of  German,  Mexicar 
and  Spanish  mintage,  some  dating  back  to  1777 

Louis  Morgan,  a  fisherman,  found  a  ragged  five- 
dollar  bill  on  the  beach .  Joined  by  other  search- 
ers $500,  all  in  old  bills,  was  picked  up.  It 
looked  as  though  someone  had  thrown  away 
his  old  money. 


270  — 

Jefferson  Island,  192.3 

Pecan  Island, 


Abbevilkj  19x5 


Bogalusa,  Washington  Paf- 
ish 


Calcasieu  Parish,  1919 


Louisiana  and  Arkansas 
Railroad  tracks,  near  Baton 
Rouge,  1919 

Shell  Beach,  Lake  Borgne, 
1931 


Naval  Station,  Algiers,  1935 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

An  unknown  number  of  silver  coins  were  found 
here  by  a  Negro. 

After  a  report  of  treasure  found  here,  searchers 
practically  dug  up  the  entire  place.  Even  huge 
oak  trees  were  ripped  out  of  the  ground. 

A  Negro  boy,  hypnotized  by  a  white  man,  un- 
covered a  treasure-trove  of  silverware  in  the 
earth  near  here. 

A  certain  man  consulted  Carrie  Mae  King,  a 
fortuneteller,  regarding  a  peculiar  mark  on  the 
ground,  and  was  told  that -treasure  was  buried 
there.  But  she  also  said  he  would  have  bad 
luck  if  he  tried  to  dig  it  up.  The  man  would 
not  attempt  to  find  it  and  refused  to  divulge  its 
location  to  any  less  superstitious  person. 

Coins  said  to  amount  to  at  least  $75,000  were 
found  in  the  dry  bed  of  the  Calcasieu  River. 
They  were  believed  to  have  been  hidden  there 
by  a  planter  of  the  War  Between  the  States 
period. 

Twenty-one  Spanish  doubloons  were  found  in  a 
load  of  gravel.  Negro  section  hands  shot  craps 
for  the  coins. 

Children  playing  on  the  beach  picked  up  coins 
dated  1800.  The  money  was  believed  lost  when 
U.S.  war  vessels  were  sunk  by  the  British  as 
General  Pakenham  advanced  on  New  Orleans. 

John  Patorno's  divining  machine  located  two 
caches  of  coins,  one  worth  $500,  the  other  $800. 


Chapter  14 


Ghosts 


OF  COURSE  EVERY  OLD  PLANTATION  HOME  IN 
Louisiana  has  at  least  one  ghost.  Any  that  did  not  would  sink 
into  the  earth  in  sheer  shame  the  moment  such  a  fact  became 
known,  for  a  spook  is  as  necessary  to  a  plantation  as  a  legend  of 
family  silver  buried  in  the  ground  by  faithful  slaves  the  day  the 
damyankees  came. 

As  a  matter  of  fact,  a  plantation  with  but  one  lone  haunt  does 
not  brag  about  it  particularly.  Ingleside  Plantation,  for  instance, 
has  a  whole  colony  of  invisible  phantoms  who  offer  as  complete 
and  as  varied  a  program  as  anyone  could  wish  for,  except  that 
they  are  invisible.  On  certain  nights  chains  bang  and  clang  in 
the  attic,  bones  rattle,  and  the  traditional  moaning  and  groaning 
may  be  heard.  Sometimes  the  chains  and  bones  perform  on  the 
stairs  and  in  the  hallway.  Out  in  the  fields  the  old  bells  toll  dis- 
mally, though  no  human  hand  is  anywhere  about.  And,  if  this 
grows  monotonous,  a  venerable  spirit,  known  as  Uncle  Nap- 
lander  Richardson,  renders  lovely  old-fashioned  tunes  on  the 
parlor  piano. 

At  The  Cottage,  the  Conrad  plantation,  near  Baton  Rouge,  a 
group  of  slaves  give  impromptu  musicales  on  the  wide  front  gal- 


2J2  


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 


lery  on  certain  evenings,  playing  and  singing  all  the  old  songs 
they  knew  in  the  days  they  worked  the  surrounding  fields.  When 
the  musicians  tune  their  fiddles  and  banjos,  there  are  also  the 
sounds  of  dancing  feet,  of  light  social  chatter  and  gay  laughter. 
The  original  master  of  the  house  used  to  invite  his  friends  over 
on  summer  nights  for  small  balls  on  the  galleries.  Now  all  re- 
turn. Occupants  of  The  Cottage  testify  that  the  music  is  so 
distinct  it  could  probably  be  transcribed  by  a  trained  musician, 
though  the  conversations  that  go  on  cannot  be  understood. 

But  'Mr.  Holt'  is  the  most  famous  ghost  at  The  Cottage.  The 
original  of  this  apparition  was  secretary  to  Frederick  E.  Conrad, 
who  built  the  house  about  1830.  Both  men  were  imprisoned 
during  the  military  occupation  of  the  Union  forces,  and  Conrad 
died  soon  after  his  release.  Holt,  however,  lived  on  at  The  Cot- 
tage for  about  twenty  years.  It  is  said  that  he  was  never  the 
same  after  his  imprisonment,  and  that  he  developed  abnormal 
notions  of  impending  poverty.  Bit  by  bit  he  stored  away  old 
clothing;  he  filled  trunks  with  stale  biscuits;  he  wandered  from 
room  to  room  during  the  night,  in  his  white  nightshirt  and 
flowing  beard.  After  death  he  seems  to  have  continued  his  noc- 
turnal wanderings,  and  has  been  seen  by  a  number  of  people.  In 
recent  years  Elks  Magazine  published  a  photograph  of  The  Cot- 
tage, and  in  one  window  a  man's  face  could  be  plainly  seen.  Of 
course,  everyone  knew  it  was  'Mr.  Holt.' 

At  Lacey  Branch,  near  Natchitoches,  there  is  a  headless  horse- 
man who  rides  about  the  road,  frightening  motorists  and  late 
pedestrians.  The  story  of  his  origin  seems  to  be  unknown,  which 
makes  him  all  the  more  awesome,  since  to  understand  what  some 
of  these  phantoms  are  about  partially  alleviates  the  terror  of  the 
person  who  meets  them.  Also  at  Natchitoches  is  the  Simmons 
house,  an  old  two-story  dwelling,  with  the  usual  or  plain  ghost 
type,  who  raps  on  walls  and  rattles  chains. 

There  is  a  haunted  wood  near  Marksville  on  the  Red  River. 
Near-by  residents  will  not  enter  the  dim  interior  after  sundown 
or  at  night.  Many  witnesses  swear  to  have  seen  headless  men 
marching  among  the  trees.  It  is  said  that  these  are  soldiers  who 
once  fought  a  battle  in  this  wood.  After  the  battle  a  long  trench 
was  dug  and  the  killed  were  buried  without  religious  service. 


Ghosts  -  27 3 

Now  the  ghosts  of  these  soldiers  cannot  rest  and  must  march  all 
night. 

Ponchatoula  has  a  haunted  gum  tree,  which  was  the  scene  of  a 
young  woman's  suicide.  At  certain  times,  it  is  said,  the  tree 
weeps  pearls  which  are,  of  course,  her  tears.  Another  tree,  which 
formerly  stood  near  the  heart  of  the  town,  was  known  among 
certain  white  inhabitants  as  'The  Christmas  Tree,'  because  once 
four  Negroes  hung  there  during  a  lynching.  The  colored  folk  of 
the  town  always  avoided  the  tree,  claiming  a  hanged  Negro  will 
invariably  haunt  the  spot  near  where  he  is  hanged. 

Kenilworth  Plantation,  just  below  New  Orleans,  boasts  a  pair 
of  lovers,  a  man  and  woman  who  walk  the  stairs  and  halls  at 
night,  affectionately  clasping  hands,  garbed  in  ante-bellum  cos- 
tumes. The  sweethearts  are  marred,  however,  by  the  fact  that 
neither  has  a  head. 

A  headless  man  stalks  the  grounds  surrounding  the  Skolfield 
House,  not  far  from  Baton  Rouge.  He  seems  to  be  perfectly 
harmless,  and  wanders  rather  aimlessly,  perhaps  in  search  of  his 
missing  skull.  There  used  to  be  a  more  destructive  ghost  there. 
She  was  a  female,  and  created  dreadful  disturbances,  sending  pots 
and  pans  crashing  to  the  floor,  and  generally  raising  an  awful 
racket.  It  was  said  that  this  kitchen-haunter  was  the  spirit  of 
the  first  wife  of  a  former  occupant  of  the  house  who  resented  her 
husband's  remarriage.  After  the  man's  death  she  vanished,  ap- 
parently having  got  hold  of  him  again. 

Limerick  Plantation,  which  stood  formerly  on  the  site  of  the 
Sherrouse  House,  near  Monroe,  possessed  a  whimsical  and  mis- 
chievous ghost,  who  every  night  sent  the  stair  spindles  rolling 
down  the  rear  staircase,  one  spindle  at  a  time,  with  such  noise 
and  clatter  as  to  arouse  the  entire  household.  This  exhibitionist 
continued  his  playful  pastime  until  the  house  was  razed. 

Myrtle  Grove  Plantation  has  a  lovable  specter  in  the  person 
of  a  little  old  French  lady  in  a  faded  green  bonnet,  who  tiptoes 
through  the  rooms  at  night,  evidently  searching  for  someone. 
Tirelessly,  she  journeys  from  bedchamber  to  bedchamber,  raising 
mosquito  baires  and  peering  hopefully  into  the  face  of  each 
sleeper.  They  say  she  is  always  disappointed,  for  the  face  is 
never  the  one  she  seeks. 


2-74  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

On  the  other  hand,  the  ghost  who  appeared  on  the  old  Mercier 
Plantation  in  St.  Bernard  Parish  was  far  less  gentle.  One  warm 
summer  evening  an  aged  Negress  stepped  out  of  her  kitchen  to 
the  back  porch  to  get  a  breath  of  air,  and  ran  right  into  a  white 
man. 

'Hello,  Sarah,'  the  white  man  said.  'I  want  you  to  meet  me 
behind  .the  milk  house  at  eleven  o'clock.  I  have  something  for 
you.' 

Sarah  didn't  even  answer  him.  Sarah  just  opened  her  mouth 
and  began  to  scream.  She  shrieked  so  loudly  that  all  the  other 
house  servants  ran  out.  Then  Sarah  told  them  she  had  met  no 
one  but  the  spirit  of  her  former  master,  Mr.  Mercier. 

'It  sure  was  him,'  Sarah  vowed  between  yells  and  sobs  of 
terror.  '  I'd  of  knowed  him  anywhere.  He  done  told  me  to  meet 
him  at  eleven  o'clock.  Just  before  he  vanished,  he  said  he  got 
gold  buried  behind  that  milk  house.  But  I  don't  want  no  dead 
man's  gold.  I  don't  want  to  even  see  no  dead  man.' 

Gold!  The  other  Negroes  pumped  her  dry.  In  a  day  or  two  it 
had  spread  all  through  the  neighborhood.  Gold!  Even  the 
group's  preacher  became  excited,  and  finally  it  was  he  who  led 
them  on  a  treasure  hunt. 

They  met  behind  the  milk  house  one  night  and  the  preacher 
took  a  shovel  and  began  to  dig.  All  of  a  sudden,  as  the  'rever- 
end' worked  away  with  his  shovel  he  began  to  yell.  He  dropped 
the  instrument  and  sprawled  face  downward  on  the  earth,  crying 
out  louder  and  louder,  screaming  the  Devil  had  him,  that  he  was 
dying.  The  bystanders  could  hear  the  sound  of  a  whip  lashing 
through  the  air,  could  see  the  preacher's  back  begin  to  cover 
with  thick  welts,  his  shirt  darken  with  his  blood. 

Sarah  came  running  up,  fought  her  way  through  the  paralyzed 
throng.  She  shrieked:  'Mr.  Mercier  is  whippin'  the  preacher!  I 
can  see  him !  He's  mad  'cause  you  all  went  after  his  gold,  and  he's 
whippin'  the  reverend.'  No  one  else  could  see  the  wielder  of 
the  whip,  but  they  could  all  see  the  man,  now  moaning  and 
writhing  in  the  mud.  A  few  days  later  he  died  from  the  effects  of 
the  beating. 

Louisiana  has  a  haunted  river.  From  a  certain  spot  in  Pearl 
River  the  sweetest  music  may  be  heard  at  night,  issuing  from  its 


Ghosts 

dark  depths.  There  are  various  legends.  Some  say  Indians  were 
drowned  there  a  long  time  ago  and  it  is  their  spirits  who  play 
and  sing;  others  that  a  group  of  early  Spanish  settlers  marched 
into  the  river  and  committed  mass  suicide  to  avoid  capture  and 
death  by  torture  at  the  hands  of  marauding  redmen,  marched  in 
playing  drum  and  fife  and  flute. 

At  Raccourci  Cut-Off,  there  is  an  even  stranger  phenomenon. 
Here  is  the  ghost  of  an  old  paddle-wheeler.  The  night  the  Mis- 
sissippi River  changed  its  course,  the  boat  was  trapped  in  the 
cutoff,  and  the  pilot,  screaming  curses,  bellowed  that  he  hoped 
they  never  got  out  of  the  place.  He  received  his  wish.  Now, 
especially  on  very  foggy  nights,  the  old  boat  can  be  heard  chug- 
ging back  and  forth,  its  signal  bell  jangling,  and,  above  it  all,  the 
roaring  of  the  pilot,  cursing  the  Mississippi,  the  boat,  his  pas- 
sengers and  himself. 

Of  course  ghosts  of  pirates  are  common.  According  to  tradi- 
tion, they  always,  when  burying  treasure,  murdered  a  member 
of  their  band,  and  left  him  to  guard  the  hidden  loot,  in  spirit 
form.  The  ghost  of  Jean  Lafitte  appears  so  often  and  in  so  many 
places  that  it  is  unlikely  he  finds  time  for  anything  else  in  the 
world  beyond  this  one.  In  one  old  house,  Jean  appeared  nightly, 
pointed  a  bony  finger  at  the  tiled  flooring.  When  news  of  this 
spread,  treasure -hunters  dug  up  the  entire  lower  floor  of  the 
house,  tile  by  tile. 

The  Pirate  Ghost  of  L'Isle  de  Gombi  is  one  of  the  most  famous 
of  this  type  of  apparition.  Gombi  Island  lies  just  off  the  gulf 
coast  near  the  mouth  of  Bayou  Caillou.  Cajuns  in  the  vicinity 
have  every  belief  in  the  pirates'  ghosts  who  reside  here.  One 
brave  young  man,  known  as  Louis,  scorned  the  idea  of  spooks, 
and  decided  to  make  his  fortune  by  uncovering  the  treasure  of 
L'Isle  de  Gombi. 

Louis  climbed  into  his  pirogue  and  set  out  for  the  tiny  island. 
Landing,  he  began  to  dig.  All  of  a  sudden  he  heard  a  noise  and 
turning  saw  his  boat  floating  away,  though  he  had  pushed  it 
well  up  onto  the  land.  He  ran  after  it,  dragged  it  back  to  the 
shore  and  tied  it  to  a  tree.  Then  he  returned  to  his  digging. 

Suddenly  he  looked  up  and  there  were  three  pirates.  Each  had 
a  long  knife  with  blood  dripping  from  it.  Then,  said  Louis, 


2j6  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

later,  '  I  sure  thought  I  was  digging  my  grave,  me,  instead  of  for 
treasure!' 

But  Louis  was  a  brave  man  and  a  good  Catholic,  so  instead  of 
running,  he  fell  on  his  knees  and  asked  the  Blessed  Virgin  to  help 
him,  vowing  never  to  look  for  treasure  if  he  emerged  from  this 
situation  alive.  The  moon  was  very  bright  and  as  the  pirates 
came  closer,  Louis  could  see  that  they  had  come  from  the  water; 
seaweed  dripped  from  their  clothing  and  shrimp  clung  to  their 
hair  and  fierce  mustaches.  Then,  as  he  prayed,  the  specters  van- 
ished, and  he  ran  for  his  pirogue.  But  his  misery  was  not  ended. 

'There,'  said  Louis,  'I  seen  a  big  fat  pirate  sitting  right  in  my 
pirogue,  me !  I  knew  he  was  the  captain  because  he  had  him  a  big 
wide  belt  over  his  coat  like,  and  long  earrings  what  shined  in 
the  moonlight  like  balls  of  fire.  Him,  he  had  blood  dripping 
down  his  mustaches  and  shrimps  crawling  all  over  his  face/ 

That  ghost  pirate  looked  at  Louis  and  Louis  looked  at  him. 
Louis  rowed,  because  that  ghost  pirate  told  him  to  row.  Louis 
said:  '  When  he  say  that  to  me  my  teeths  start  to  knock  together 
in  my  mouth.  Me,  I  row  like  hell.  I  knew  he  wasn't  kidding, 
see?  In  one  big  hairy  hand  he  had  a  big  pistol  like  a  cannon, 
almost.' 

Poor  Louis  rowed  and  rowed.  At  last  they  were  far  from  that 
island.  Then,  'That  pirate,  he  slid  over  the  side  of  the  boat  and 
was  gone.  Me,  I  knew  for  true  he  was  a  ghost  then,  'cause  when 
he  sinked  there  wasn't  no  bubbles  come  after  him.' 

Louis  went  straight  home,  and  when  he  walked  into  his  wife's 
room  without  knocking  she  almost  killed  him,  because  she 
didn't  recognize  him.  His  hair  was  snow  white.  Strangely,  he 
didn't  go  crazy.  His  friends  could  not  understand  that.  'But,' 
ends  the  story  triumphantly,  'soon  after  that  he  die.' 

A  certain  young  man  in  Napoleonville,  like  Louis,  boasted 
loudly  that  he  was  not  afraid  of  ghosts.  And  one  night,  when 
passing  a  graveyard  with  some  friends,  he  was  challenged  to 
spend  the  night  there  alone.  He  accepted,  went  inside  and  sat 
down  on  a  grave.  Friends  watched  him  from  a  hidden  place. 
Attempting  to  rise,  the  boy's  coat  was  caught  on  a  forked  stick 
shoved  down  into  the  earth.  Uttering  loud  shrieks  that  a  spirit 
had  him,  he  ripped  his  coat  to  shreds  getting  loose,  and  ran 


Ghosts  —  277 

yelling  out  into  the  road.  His  friends  didn't  catch  him  until  the 
following  morning.  He  was  a  raving  maniac.  There  are  many 
versions  of  this  story. 

Shreveport  has  had  its  share  of  visiting  folk  from  the  spirit 
world.  One  attracted  much  attention  from  newspapers  all  over 
the  State  a  few  years  ago.  The  figure  of  a  ten-year-old  girl  ap- 
peared on  the  porch  of  a  private  home  every  night  for  weeks. 
Lights  in  the  vicinity  were  removed  or  rearranged,  and  still  the 
small  phantom  returned.  There  was  a  story  of  a  little  girl's  being 
electrocuted  on  that  porch  some  years  before.  After  a  while,  but 
in  her  own  good  time  and  of  her  own  volition,  the  young  ghost 
ceased  to  appear. 

Mrs.  Rosie  Altrano  of  Lafayette  stated  that  she  frequently  sees 
ghosts  walking  casually  around  the  streets,  even  in  broad  day- 
light. They  don't  bother  her  at  all  now,  but  she  admits  she  was 
frightened  the  first  time  she  met  a  spook. 

'I  was  in  bed  all  by  myself,'  says  Mrs.  Altrano,  'and  wasn't 
worried  or  didn't  have  nothing  to  scare  me,  or  nothing.  A  big 
man  ghost  come  up  to  the  side  of  my  bed,  looked  at  me  and  said, 
"Rosie,  I'm  in  your  room."  I  began  to  shake  all  over.  He  said, 
"Rosie,  I'm  by  your  bed."  I  shook  even  worse.  "Rosie,"  he 
said,  "I'm  in  your  bed."  And  he  sure  was,  right  there  next  to 
me.  I  was  like  ice.  Then  he  said,  "Rosie,  I'm  under  your  quilt." 
By  that  time  I  was  almost  dead.  "Rosie,"  he  said.  "I  got 
you!"  He  had  me,  too.  All  of  a  sudden  I  got  my  wind  and  I 
screamed  loud  as  I  could.  Then  he  vanished.' 

A  man  named  Taylor  in  Vermillion,  like  Mrs.  Altrano,  has 
grown  quite  accustomed  to  seeing  spirits.  They're  everywhere, 
declares  he,  in  every  street,  in  every  house;  sometimes  they  ride 
on  people's  shoulders.  Lots  of  times,  Mr.  Taylor  says,  friends 
come  to  visit  him  with  a  ghost  sitting  on  their  shoulder.  He 
says  he  never  tells  them  this,  however,  because  it  might  make 
them  nervous.  Most  of  them  look  just  like  people,  though  occa- 
sionally they'll  assume  other  shapes.  'One  thing,'  he  says,  'I've 
always  noticed  is  that  almost  all  the  women  ghosts  are  beautiful. 
I  guess  that's  because  all  women  want  to  be  beautiful  and  after 
death  they  get  their  dearest  wish.' 

Genuinely  macabre  is  the  legend  of  'The  Singing  Bones,' 
which  took  place  out  in  the  bayou  country. 


2  7  8  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

A  man,  father  of  twenty-five  children  and  unemployed,  grew 
more  and  more  morose 4  No  matter  how  he  tried  he  could  not 
find  work,  and  most  nights  his  brood  went  to  bed  crying  with 
hunger. 

One  day,  after  his  usual  exhaustive  search  for  work,  the  father 
was  amafced,  as  he  dragged  his  lagging  feet  up  on  the  porch  of  his 
home,  to  have  the  tantalizing  aroma  of  roasting  meat  strike  his 
nostrils.  The  family  had  had  no  meat  for  months.  Rushing  back 
to  the  kitchen  he  found  his  wife  tending  a  large  roast  in  the  oven. 

Immediately  he  demanded  to  know  where  the  meat  had  come 
from^  but  his  wife  begged  him  not  to  ask  questions,  but  to  sit 
down  and  eat.  Too  tired  and  hungry  to  care  anyway,  he  obeyed 
her  like  a  child. 

The  next  night  and  the  next  there  was  meat  on  the  table,  al- 
ways the  same  delicious  boneless  pork-like  meat,  and  the  father 
and  the  children  ate  in  unquestioning  silence.  Strangely,  the 
mother  never  joined  them,  saying  always  that  she  had  already 
eaten. 

Soon  after  this  he  looked  for  a  certain  one  of  his  children  and 
couldn't  find  him.  Asking  his  wife  about  him,  she  replied  sim- 
ply that  she  had  sent  several  of  the  youngsters  to  her  sisters  for  a 
few  days. 

But  a  week  later  he  missed  his  favorite  son. 

'He's  gone  to  my  sister's,  too,'  the  wife  said. 

But  weeks  passed,  then  months,  winter  grew  into  spring,  and 
one  day,  counting  carefully,  the  father  discovered  that  more  than 
half  of  his  offspring  were  missing.  He  was  strangely  saddened 
and  depressed,  but  hesitated  about  questioning  his  wife,  for  she 
had  developed  a  very  bad  temper  lately  and  if  any  of  the  children 
were  mentioned  flew  into  a  violent  rage.  Yet  he  knew  something 
was  wrong. 

One  afternoon,  sitting  out  on  his  back  steps  to  brood,  he  heard 
a  faint  humming  sound  from  beneath  the  steps.  The  hum  grew 
louder  and  louder.  First  he  thought  it  was  mosquitoes,  but  then, 
with  horror,  he  knew  what  he  heard  was  the  voices  of  children. 
They  seemed  to  sing  right  into  his  ear: 

Our  mother  kills  us^ 
Our  father  eats  us, 


A  haunted  summer  house  at  "The  Shadows"  in  New  Iberia 
Courtesy  of  Fritz  Henle:  from  Black  Star 


I 


II 


The  strange  old  LePrete  house  has  many  ghostly  legends 
Courtesy  of  United  States  Housing  Authority,  Photo  by  Sekaer 


J- 


Ruins  of  Fort  Livingstone  and  lighthouse  on  Grande  Terre.  In  the  background  is 

Grande  Isle,  once  the  haunt  of  LaFitte's  Pirates 

Courtesy  of  Jefferson  Parish  Review 


r<v  *  v 


\ 


ftV.Tfc* 


•\-"- 


Madame  Perrin  is  a  volume  of  folklore.  "Napoleon?  LaFitte?  John  Paul  Jones?" 

She  has  buried  them  all  in  a  single  grave! 

Courtesy  of  Jefferson  Parish  Review 


Ghosts  —  27  p 

We  have  no  coffins, 

We  are  not  in  holy  ground. 

Leaping  to  his  feet,  the  man  stooped  and  lifted  the  concrete 
slabs  that  served  as  steps.  Beneath  lay  a  pile  of  tiny  human 
bones.  Now  he  knew  the  ghastly  truth  behind  the  meat  they 
had  been  eating,  of  what  had  become  of  his  children. 

He  rushed  into  the  house,  strangled  his  wife,  and  beat  her  head 
to  a  pulp  with  an  axe.  Then  he  fetched  a  priest  and  had  the 
bones  of  his  murdered  children  properly  buried.  It  is  said  that  he 
was  never  able  to  eat  meat  again. 

Not  many  years  ago  a  woman  named  Matilde  lived  on  a  farm 
near  Killona.  A  neighbor  used  to  pasture  his  horse  on  her  land, 
but  eventually  she  had  all  her  land  plafited  out  and  she  forbade  the 
horse  to  set  a  hoof  on  her  property.  The  horse  ignored  this,  in- 
vaded  her  grounds,  so  Matilde  threw  a  stone,  struck  him  on  the 
nose,  and  killed  him. 

Evidently  the  horse's  owner  put  a  curse  on  her  after  that,  as  he 
was  reputed  to  be  in  communion  with  the  spirit  world.  She 
could  hardly  remain  in  the  house  after  that,  for  instead  of  just  a 
horse,  she  was  invaded  by  ghosts.  Furniture  moved  from  place 
to  place;  voices  taunted  her,  saying:  'Our  master  told  us  to  move 
inhere.  You  get  out,  Matilde.'  Sometimes  unseen  hands  would 
beat  her  black  and  blue,  and  she  would  flee  the  house  screaming. 
Then  they  would  follow  her  into  the  fields,  cursing  and  torment- 
ing her.  At  last  the  ghosts  told  her,  since  she  was  stubborn  and 
refused  to  obey  their  orders  to  move,  she  would  be  dead  by 
Christmas.  She  was.  One  morning  neighbors  found  her  cold  and 
stiff  in  her  bed. 

Nobody  could  live  in  that  house  after  that,  though  several 
families  tried.  Once  a  spiritualist  meeting  was  held  there,  and 
the  irate  spooks  chased  the  group  out  of  the  place,  ripping  their 
Bible  to  pieces,  turning  over  benches  and  causing  the  people  to 
run  for  their  lives.  Witnesses  testify  to  the  absolute  truth  of  this 
occurrence. 

New  Orleans  has  more  ghosts  than  there  are  wrought-iron 
balconies  in  the  Vieux  Carre.  Of  course,  it  isn't  very  strange  that 
such  an  old  city  with  such  a  past  should  have  a  spook  stored 
away  in  every  nook  and  cranny,  an  apparition  inhabiting  many 


28 o  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

rooftops  and  nearly  every  one  of  the  aforementioned  balconies. 

Once,  not  inappropriately,  the  Devil  lived  in  New  Orleans. 
He  had  at  the  time  taken  a  French  mistress  and  set  her  up  in  a 
stately  mansion  in  St.  Charles  Avenue. 

The  Devil  was  very  fond  of  his  girl  friend,  and  very  jealous. 
Nevertheless,  while  he  was  away  six  days  of  the  week,  attending 
to  other  duties,  the  coquette  took  another  lover,  a  dashing  young 
Creole  of  the  city.  Satan  returned  one  night  and,  leaning  against 
a  post  outside,  waited  for  the  youth  to  emerge  from  the  house. 
When  he  encountered  him,  Satan  told  him  frankly  that  he  was 
the  lover  of  the  Frenchwoman,  but  said  that  now  he  did  not 
want  her  any  more,  and  that  the  boy  was  to  take  her  and  a  mil- 
lion pounds  of  gold  and  go  away.  There  was  one  condition,  how- 
ever; they  must  always  be  known  as  Monsieur  and  Madame  L. 

The  youth  agreed,  and  next  night  told  his  sweetheart  about 
the  condition  at  dinner.  The  French  girl  was  both  terrified  and 
furious,  for  she  realized  that  the  '  L'  stood  for  Lucifer.  In  a  rage 
she  rushed  at  her  lover  with  a  napkin,  whipped  it  around  his 
throat  and  strangled  him  to  death.  At  that  moment  the  Devil 
appeared,  killed  her  and  carried  both  the  bodies  to  the  roof, 
where  he  devoured  them,  all  but  the  skins.  These  he  gave  to 
cats  wandering  on  the  housetop. 

From  that  time  on  the  Devil's  head  was  fixed  in  the  gable  of 
that  roof,  bound  there  by  the  sticky  flesh  of  the  mortals  he  had 
eaten.  For  years  afterward  Orleanians  used  to  pass  and  stop  to 
stare  up  at  the  living  head  of  Lucifer  set  right  there  in  the  front 
of  the  house.  You  see,  he  had  forgotten,  in  his  jealous  anger, 
that  he  must  not  work  in  the  full  of  the  moon,  and  was  thus 
punished  for  his  folly. 

But  the  drama  in  the  dining-room  continued.  Night  after 
night,  the  great  dining  table  and  the  magnificent  crystal  chan- 
deliers materialized.  Always  a  young  man  and  a  girl  sat  down 
to  eat.  Then  the  girl  would  rise,  her  face  contorted  with  fury, 
and  strangle  her  companion  with  a  napkin.  Then  the  girl  would 
find  her  hands  drenched  with  blood,  and  try  frantically  to  wipe 
them  clean,  but  of  course  she  never  could.  Weeping  and  wailing, 
she  would  gradually  fade  from  view.  Night  after  night  the 
whole  sordid  crime  was  re-enacted,  again  and  again. 


Ghosts  — 281 

Many  families  tried  to  live  in  the  Devil's  Mansion,  but  no  one 
could  endure  the  nightly  drama.  Only  one  family  stayed  for  any 
length  of  time,  that  of  Charles  B.  Larendon,  husband  of  the 
daughter  of  General  P.  G.  T.  Beauregard.  Mrs.  Larendon  died 
with  the  birth  of  a  child,  but  her  husband  stayed  on  in  the  house 
until  his  death.  Later,  a  Mrs.  Jacques  moved  in,  but  she  re- 
ported that  she  could  not  bear  the  ghastly  manifestations  which 
took  place  in  the  dining-room.  Her  family  had  to  cease  using  the 
room  entirely  and  at  last  moved. 

For  a  number  of  years  the  Devil's  Mansion  remained  unoccu- 
pied. In  1930  it  was  demolished.  No  one  would  live  in  a  resi- 
dence where  the  shades  of  Lucifer's  mistress  and  her  lover  re- 
turned, and  where  the  living  head  of  the  Devil  was  set  in  the 
gable  above  the  roof. 

The  New  Orleans  Times-Picayune  of  September  17,  1933,  told  the 
horrible  story  of  a  haunted  house  in  Fourth  Street.  Because  of 
the  constant  tales  of  weird  happenings  the  building  was  at  last 
turned  over  to  a  group  of  Negroes  who  could  not  pay  rent.  They 
huddled  in  a  small  outer  building,  avoiding  the  main  dwelling 
for  terror  of  the  supernatural  happenings  there.  They  reported 
many  eerie  things.  Ghostly  faces  appeared  at  the  windows. 
When  the  moon  was  full,  the  kitchen  door  would  creak  open  to 
reveal  horrible  misty  things  crawling  about  the  floor  on  their 
hands  and  knees. 

At  one  time  two  elderly  spinsters  moved  into  the  front  portion 
of  the  house.  They  said  the  ghosts  came  creeping  in  like  an  army 
of  gray  rats,  their  hair  covered  with  blood;  one  pulled  his  leg  off 
and  threw  it  at  the  new  tenants.  Another  dug  out  his  liver  and 
tossed  it  at  a  lamp.  A  third  gouged  out  his  own  tongue  and 
stuffed  it  into  the  teakettle.  One  vomited  into  the  ladies'  Sunday 
shoes;  one  clawed  out  his  eyes  and  ate  them;  and  one  emptied  a 
sack  of  live  green  worms  into  the  tenants'  bed.  They  smashed 
dishes,  tore  up  clothing,  smeared  the  parlor  sofa  with  filth,  put 
feathers  into  the  pot  of  gumbo,  and  sifted  ashes  into  the  butter. 
After  that  the  maiden  ladies  moved. 

Finally  the  owner  of  the  house  had  the  floor  of  the  house  torn 
up  and  replaced,  and  after  that  the  ghosts  failed  to  appear.  It  was 
never  verified,  but  the  Negroes  vowed  a  number  of  ancient  skele- 


282 —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

tons  were  found  under  the  flooring,  and  it  was  not  until  they  were 
decently  buried  that  the  haunting  ceased. 

In  April,  1874, tne  Treme  Street  Bridge,  crossing  the  Old  Basin 
in  New  Orleans,  was  haunted  by  the  wraith  of  a  woman.  Usu- 
ally she  was,  as  all  female  ghosts  should  be,  pale  and  beautiful 
and  young,  but  often  she  took  other  forms.  Sometimes  she 
would  be  older  and  have  a  child  clasped  in  her  misty  arms. 
Again,  she  would  appear  as  a  haggard  old  creature,  her  body 
rotted  and  obscene,  her  toothless  mouth  drooling,  her  scanty 
white  hair  dripping  with  slime,  her  draperies  green  with  filth; 
worms  would  crawl  about  her  throat  and  often  she  carried  a 
lighted  candle.  Always  at  midnight  she  would  appear,  and 
great  crowds  gathered  to  view  the  scene,  many  vowing  they  saw 
her  standing  there,  shivering  with  terror.  New  Orleans  news- 
papers of  the  period  made  much  of  these  manifestations. 

Legend  had  it  that  this  phantom  was  the  ghost  of  a  woman 
who,  discarded  by  her  lover,  became  a  prostitute,  bore  a  child, 
and,  in  premature  old  age,  drowned  herself  in  the  waters  near 
the  Treme  Street  Bridge.  That,  it  was  said,  was  why  she  ap- 
peared in  three  forms:  as  the  young  girl,  trusting  and  happy  in 
her  love  for  the  man,  as  the  older  woman  with  the  child,  and  as 
the  broken  derelict  she  was  at  the  time  of  her  death.  The  man, 
it  was  stated,  had  adopted  the  child,  not  knowing  it  was  hers. 
The  baby  died  and,  blaming  himself  for  it  all,  he  had  committed 
suicide  in  the  same  spot  where  the  girl  had  taken  her  life.  Later, 
when  the  apparition  ceased  to  appear,  it  was  reasoned  that  the 
lovers  had  been  reunited  at  last  beneath  the  surface  of  the  water. 

At  1447  Constance  Street  stands  a  mansion  built  about  182.0. 
It  is  said  that  here  two  white -faced  soldiers  in  blue  uniforms 
stare  out  of  the  upper  windows,  waving  their  arms  and  babbling 
in  a  muddled  jargon.  Sometimes  they  clasp  hands  and  parade  up 
and  down  the  halls,  singing  the  'Battle  Hymn  of  the  Republic,' 
famous  song  of  the  Union  Army  during  the  War  Between  the 
States. 

This  house  eventually  became  a  lamp  factory.  One  night,  a 
Negro  stayed  late  to  clean  up.  He  was  alone  on  the  second  floor 
when  the  door  swung  open;  in  marched  a  pair  of  heavy  boots, 
or  at  least  he  could  hear,  though  he  could  see  nothing;  a  moment 


Ghosts  —  28  $ 

later  there  was  the  sound  of  a  second  pair.  Then  he  heard  laugh- 
ter and  the  whistling  of  that  song.  The  colored  boy  stood  it  just 
one  minute,  then  he  fled  down  the  steps  and  out  of  the  house. 

Another  morning  the  two  proprietors  had  arrived  early.  No 
one  else  was  there.  Suddenly  a  huge  block  of  cement  came 
hurtling  down  the  steps,  barely  missed  the  two  men.  No  one 
had  ever  seen  the  block  before.  How  had  such  a  definitely  huge 
and  solid  thing  got  into  the  house? 

At  one  time  a  widow  took  a  portion  of  the  dwelling  as  an 
apartment.  Sitting  sewing  one  afternoon  a  drop  of  blood  fell 
from  the  ceiling  on  her  arm.  Another.  She  stared  upward. 
Blood  dripped  from  a  spot  in  the  ceiling,  one  drop  at  a  time. 
Then  she  heard  someone  singing: 

John  Brown's  body  lies  a-moulding  in  his  grave, 
John  Brown's  body  lies . . . 

3;j3:  .  :..  ;-,;ii":,  ;  .s;-.ni  ^'"IIK!  ,  v//  .ni  -^jV  Vxj  ,:;.-.#  1H>  ; 

The  next  day,  when  the  widow  moved,  two  young  men  in  the 
blue  uniforms  of  the  Union  Army  appeared  at  an  upstairs  win- 
dow, looked  down  and  smiled. 

Patrolman  William  Fleming  remembered  visiting  the  house  as 
a  small  boy,  taking  two  other  boys  and  a  pair  of  dogs.  The  floor 
had  been  ripped  up  in  an  upper  chamber  and  the  youngsters 
walked  the  joists.  Suddenly  a  door  swung  open  slowly,  and  an 
icy  draft  blew  in.  One  of  the  dogs  fell  through  the  floor  and  was 
instantly  killed.  The  other  cried  and  carried  on  strangely.  The 
boys  made  a  hasty  departure.  Behind  them  came  the  song  in  a 
deep  baritone: 

John  Brown's  body  lies  a-moulding  in  his  grave, 
John  Brown's  body  lies  a-moulding  in  his  grave, 
John  Brown's  body  lies  a-moulding  in  his  grave, 
But  his  soul  keeps  marching  on. 

Oh,  we'll  hang  Jeff  Davis  to  a  sour-apple  tree, 
Oh,  we'll  hang  Jeff  Davis  to ... 

The  story  is  that  two  Federal  officers  in  New  Orleans  during 
the  occupation  of  General  Ben  Butler  stole  army  funds,  and  when 
accused  of  the  crime,  hid  themselves  in  this  house.  Then,  one 
night,  they  lay  side  by  side  on  the  bed,  and  each  placing  his  re- 


284  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

volver  over  the  other's  heart,  they  pulled  the  triggers.  There 
were  two  shots,  as  one.  Then  no  sound  but  the  drip,  drip,  drip  of 
their  mingling  blood.  This  happened  more  than  three  quarters 
of  a  century  ago,  yet  still  they  walk,  singing  their  old  Yankee 
song. 

The  backyard  of  a  house  in  Saratoga  Street  is  still  haunted  by 
the  ghost  of  an  old  miser  who  once  lived  there.  This  old  man 
worked  hard,  denied  himself  everything,  and  hoarded  his  money 
in  pieces  of  gold.  Night  after  night  he  would  sit  by  the  dim  oil 
lamp  that  was  his  only  light,  counting  and  caressing  his  gold. 
'  My  beautiful  children !'  he  would  say  to  the  coins.  '  My  beauti- 
ful, beautiful  children!' 

Before  he  died  he  buried  all  his  'beautiful  children'  in  a  deep 
hole  in  the  backyard.  Now  he  returns  almost  every  night  to 
search  frantically  for  his  gold.  This  isn't  very  difficult  for  him, 
you  see,  because  he  was  buried  in  a  cemetery  just  across  the  street 
from  his  former  residence.  Sometimes  he  brings  other  shades  to 
help  him  claw  at  the  hard  earth,  one  in  particular  a  hideous 
wraith  of  an  old  woman,  whose  flesh  hangs  in  decomposed  tat- 
ters from  her  bleached  bones  and  who  has  no  face,  but  just  burn- 
ing eyes  set  in  a  skull.  They  hobble  about  muttering  and  whin- 
ing, the  man  begging  his  'beautiful  children'  to  show  them- 
selves. Frequently  neighbors  watch  the  scene,  hoping  to  be 
shown  where  the  gold  is  buried.  Many  people  have  dug  in  the 
yard,  but  nothing  is  ever  found. 

The  Seamen's  Bethel  in  St.  Thomas  Street,  New  Orleans,  was 
once  haunted  by  the  ghosts  of  two  young  sailors,  who  would 
appear  each  night,  weeping  and  sobbing,  and  frightening  the 
wits  out  of  the  transient  lodgers.  At  last  one  courageous  sailor 
asked  them  what  they  wanted.  The  answer  was,  'Mother!' 

The  tale  was  finally  pieced  together.  A  century  before  the 
boys  had  lived  in  the  house  with  their  parents  when  it  had  been 
a  private  residence.  Both  had  been  drowned  while  at  sea.  Re- 
turning as  spirits,  they  had  appeared  to  their  mother  several 
times,  but  she  had  always  been  too  frightened  to  answer  their 
cries.  They  never  showed  themselves  again  after  the  sailor  an- 
swered them.  But  —  a  few  nights  later  that  same  sailor  was 
found  strangled  to  death  in  his  bed. 


Ghosts  —  285 

Cherokee  Street  was  once  the  scene  of  a  ghost  war.  The  2.00 
block  was  literally  showered  with  bricks  and  stones  one  night. 
The  next  night  it  happened  again.  This  went  on  for  days.  Police 
were  summoned,  circled  the  block,  searched  feverishly,  but 
nothing  or  no  one  was  ever  found.  Neighbors  remembered  an  old 
man  and  a  little  girl  who  had  lived  in  the  block,  and  who  had 
hated  each  other  violently.  Strangely,  the  two  had  died  within 
the  same  week  and  had  been  buried  in  adjoining  tombs  in  the 
cemetery.  It  was  said  that  now  the  two  spirits  were  warring 
against  each  other.  The  child's  parents  had  her  body  removed  to 
another  tomb  and  the  shower  of  bricks  and  stones  ceased  imme- 
diately. 

Miss  Rica  Hoffman,  a  New  Orleans  resident,  remembered  the 
case  of  'The  Ghost  Who  Walked  the  Sausage  Factory/  a  fan- 
tastic crime  and  supernatural  aftermath  which  occurred  in  the 
city  some  years  ago. 

'A  long  time  ago,  right  before  I  was  born,  my  mother  met 
Hans  Muller,'  Mrs.  Hoffman  said.  'My  parents  and  the  Mullers 
had  both  just  come  from  Germany,  so  naturally  they  were 
friendly.  Hans  Muller  was  a  hard-working  young  man,  but  he 
was  in  love  with  another  girl  and  tired  of  his  wife,  who,  working 
very  hard  in  the  sausage  factory  they  owned,  grew  old  and 
wrinkled  before  her  time.  One  night  Hans  pushed  his  wife  into 
the  big  me^t  grinder  in  the  factory.  Nothing  of  her  was  left. 
But  a  few  days  later  customers  began  to  complain  of  bits  of  bone 
and  cloth  in  their  sausages.  Even  his  girl,  hearing  the  gossip, 
grew  cold  toward  him  and  would  not  see  him  any  more. 

'One  night,  soon  after,  he  heard  a  "thump!  thump!  thump!" 
around  his  boiler  vat.  Then  he  saw  the  bloody  ghost  of  his  wife, 
with  her  head  crushed  to  a  pulp,  coming  toward  him.  Shrieking, 
he  fled  from  the  place.  Neighbors,  hearing  his  screams,  ques- 
tioned him,  but  he  said  he  had  suffered  a  bad  dream.  He  had  told 
everyone  Mrs.  Muller  was  out  of  town. 

'  Then  a  customer  found  a  bit  of  a  gold  wedding  ring  in  a  sau- 
sage. She  called  the  police,  but  they  found  Hans  Muller  in  his 
factory  screaming  and  crying,  a  raving  maniac.  He  kept  saying 
his  wife  was  coming  out  of  the  sausage  grinder  and  would  get 
him.  He  spent  the  rest  of  his  life  in  an  insane  asylum. 


2  8  6  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

4  A  man  bought  the  factory,  but  the  ghost  continued  to  appear. 
Nobody  could  stop  it.  At  last  Muller  committed  suicide  in  the 
asylum,  and  the  phantom  never  appeared  again.  My  mother  ate 
some  of  the  sausages  Mrs.  Muller  was  made  into.' 

New  Orleans  taxicabs  still  avoid  one  of  the  St.  Louis  cemeter- 
ies whenever  possible.  At  least  they  never  stop  to  pick  up  a 
young  woman  dressed  in  white  who  might  hail  them  from  the 
entrance.  One  driver  answered  her  signal  late  one  night  and 
drove  her  to  the  address  she  gave  him.  There,  she  asked  him  to 
go  up  on  a  gallery,  ring  the  bell  and  inquire  for  a  man  who  lived 
there.  The  man  came  out,  but  when  the  driver  told  him  of  the 
girl  waiting  in  the  cab,  he  asked  for  her  description.  And  when 
this  was  given,  he  said  that  was  his  wife,  but  she  had  been  dead 
and  buried  for  some  time,  that  she  had  been  interred  in  her  bridal 
dress.  Then  the  taxi  driver  realized  that  it  had  been  a  wedding 
gown  the  girl  was  wearing.  The  men  raced  down  to  the  cab  and 
jerked  open  the  door,  The  phantom  was  gone.  Husband  and 
driver  fainted.  From  then  on  the  bride  at  the  entrance  of  that 
cemetery  hails  taxis  in  vain. 

Cemeteries  are,  of  course,  ideal  places  for  specters,  since  here 
lie  the  remains  of  their  earthly  bodies.  No  haunted  house  ever 
received  more  attention  and  publicity,  for  instance,  than  the 
'glowing  tomb'  of  Josie  Arlington,  famed  Story ville  lady. 

Then  there  is  the  young  woman  who  spent  a  night  in  an  old 
cemetery  on  a  bet,  and  told  a  remarkable  tale  next  morning.  She 
said  that  as  soon  as  the  moon  left  the  sky,  and  it  became  pitch 
black,  a  bluish  light  filled  the  place,  and  from  the  graves  stepped 
a  company  of  ghosts,  weaving  back  and  forth  like  wisps  of  fog. 
Then  a  second  group  rose  from  the  ground,  these  looking  much 
older  than  the  others.  Presently  a  third  lot  appeared,  these  quite 
elderly.  There  followed  a  fourth  set,  so  bent  and  feeble  with  age 
that  they  had  to  lean  against  the  others  for  support.  When  a 
fifth  group  appeared  they  could  not  stand  at  all,  but  crawled  and 
writhed  on  the  ground  like  reptiles.  Finally,  a  downpour  of  rain 
descended  upon  the  seething  mass  and  they  all  vanished  under- 
ground. The  girl  did  not  wait  to  win  her  bet. 

Next  day,  however,  she  returned  to  investigate  and  discovered 
that  this  cemetery  was  in  reality  five  graveyards,  one  built  over 


Ghosts  — 28  j 

the  other;  there  had  been  an  Indian  burial  ground,  an  old  Spanish 
graveyard,  the  family  cemetery  of  a  Creole,  an  ancient  potter's 
field.  As  she  had  no  previous  knowledge  of  this,  the  girl  was 
convinced  she  had  seen  into  the  spirit  world. 

A  New  Orleans  woman  who  had  lost  her  sweetheart  in  the 
first  World  War,  recovering  from  her  grief,  decided  to  marry 
another  man.  Something  made  her  hesitate,  however,  and  she 
went  to  the  grave  of  her  first  lover  to  ask  his  spirit's  guidance. 
All  night  she  sat  beside  the  tomb,  talking  to  the  marble  slab. 
At  last  she  heard  a  noise  and  glancing  upward  saw  an  old  owl 
circling  overhead.  Each  time  the  owl  circled  it  dropped  a  beau- 
tiful rose  into  her  lap,  until  she  held  fourteen  scarlet  blooms  and 
fifteen  white  ones.  Then  she  realized  that  the  corresponding 
letters  of  the  alphabet  were  N  and  O.  As  soon  as  she  awakened 
to  this  fact  the  roses  withered  and  died.  Later  she  learned  that 
the  man  she  had  nearly  married  was  a  criminal  and  had  swindled 
numerous  women  by  pretending  to  marry  them. 

A  widow  of  the  city  used  to  visit  her  husband's  tomb  in  Saint 
Louis  Cemetery  Number  I  almost  daily,  where  she  would  grieve 
deeply.  She  grew  more  and  more  morose,  even  contemplated  sui- 
cide. One  day  she  fell  asleep  in  the  cemetery  and  when  she  awoke 
it  was  dark.  Then  she  saw  a  pale  form  emerge  from  the  tomb, 
and  she  recognized  her  husband.  She  was  overjoyed,  and  began 
to  question  him.  Suddenly  she  became  conscious  of  the  fact  that 
she  could  see  through  all  the  tombs  in  the  graveyard.  All  about 
her  were  happy,  laughing,  chatting  people  of  all  ages.  Turning, 
she  looked  through  the  cemetery  walls  and  there  she  saw  hordes 
of  ghastly  skeletons,  scrambling  and  plunging  by,  hurrying  and 
falling  and  crushing  each  other  in  what  appeared  to  be  a  stupid, 
insane  race  to  get  somewhere  first.  Laughing  at  her  horror,  her 
husband  said : '  That  is  the  way  your  world  looks  to  us.  You  see, 
it  is  they  who  are  dead.  We  are  alive. '  From  then  on  she  grieved 
no  more,  but  became  a  happy  and  successful  personality,  know- 
ing that  her  husband  was  alive  and  happy. 

One  of  the  most  fearful  of  all  the  legends  is  that  of  the  ghosts 
who  haunted  the  old  Carrollton  Jail.  So  many  witnesses,  among 
them  hard-boiled  and  exceedingly  realistic  officers  of  the  law, 
testified  to  the  eerie  happenings  that  it  is  almost  impossible  to 


288 —  GumboYa-Ya 

doubt  that  strange   things   did  occur  in  that  establishment. 

Originally  the  old  Jefferson  Parish  Prison,  when  the  Carrollton 
section  was  a  part  of  that  parish,  the  building  later  became  the 
Ninth  Precinct  Station,  though  colloquially  it  seems  to  have 
always  been  known  as  the  'Carrollton  Jail.' 

One  evening,  in  the  summer  of  1899,  two  men  and  a  woman 
stepped  in  to  chat  with  Sergeant  William  Clifton,  police  com- 
mander of  the  District.  The  lady  leaned  against  a  wall  in  the 
office,  and  immediately  was  spun  out  into  the  room  as  if  someone 
had  pushed  her  violently.  This  happened  three  times,  when  she 
continued  to  lean  against  the  wall  as  a  test.  Terrified,  she 
screamed  that  there  was  something  in  that  wall.  The  men  then 
leaned  against  it  in  turn,  and  to  each  one's  amazement,  he  was 
sent  whirling  into  the  middle  of  the  room. 

Several  nights  later,  an  Officer  Dell,  driver  of  the  patrol  wagon, 
lay  down  to  nap  on  a  sofa  which  stood  against  the  same  wall. 
The  couch  began  to  roll,  carried  the  policeman  out  into  the  cen- 
ter of  the  room  and  back  again.  The  next  night,  another  police- 
man, boasting  of  his  disbelief  in  the  supernatural,  lay  down  on 
the  couch  in  the  presence  of  a  number  of  his  fellow  officers.  Sud- 
denly the  sofa  tilted  and  bounced  the  brave  officer  to  the  floor. 
From  then  on  no  one  touched  that  wall.  There  was  a  story  of  a 
man  who  had  killed  his  wife  and  boiled  her  body  in  lye.  Ar- 
rested, the  wrathful  police  had  beaten  the  man  to  death  against 
the  wall.  Before  he  died  he  had  screamed  he  would  return,  and 
evidently  he  had. 

One  night  in  October,  the  same  year,  Mounted  Officer  Jules 
Aucoin  saw  a  portrait  of  Admiral  Dewey,  hero  of  the  day,  re- 
volving like  a  wheel  on  the  wall  of  the  office.  Yet,  when  closely 
examined,  it  was  found  to  be  fastened  tightly  and  perfectly 
normal  in  appearance.  On  other  nights  a  portrait  of  General 
P.  G.  T.  Beauregard  and  a  mirror  crashed  to  the  floor.  Both  were 
hung  with  strong  cord  from  stout  nails,  and  on  each  occasion  the 
cord  was  unbroken,  the  nail  still  firmly  fixed  in  the  wall. 

Corporal  Harry  Hyatt  vowed  that  he  heard  heavy  footsteps  in 
the  corridors,  one  foot  dragging.  Everyone  remembered  a  mur- 
derer who  was  lame  and  who  had  been  imprisoned  there.  The 
night  Corporal  Hyatt  heard  the  footsteps,  the  murderer,  who 


Ghosts  — 289 

had  escaped,  was  found  dead  —  in  Pennsylvania.  Other  nights 
iron  paperweights  were  raised  from  desks  and  flung  violently  at 
policemen. 

On  one  floor,  several  condemned  cells  had  been  remodeled  into 
a  courtroom.  Footsteps  were  often  heard  up  there.  At  three 
o'clock  one  morning  great  hands  grasped  the  throat  of  Sergeant 
Clifton  and  almost  strangled  him  to  death.  There  was  no  one 
about. 

One  hot  July  day  about  noon  two  quadroon  girls  appeared  in 
the  Sergeant's  office.  Suddenly  they  vanished  right  before  his 
astonished  eyes.  It  was  believed  they  were  the  wraiths  of  two 
wenches  who  had  carved  out  their  lovers'  livers.  On  another 
occasion  an  Officer  Foster  saw  Sergeant  Shoemaker,  who  had 
been  dead  more  than  a  year,  standing  beside  his  desk.  The  ghost 
walked  over  to  the  sofa  and  vanished. 

Requests  for  transfers  to  other  precincts  became  frequent 
among  officers  stationed  at  the  Carroll  ton  Jail. 

Whenever  prisoners  were  placed  for  the  night  in  cell  number 
three  they  were  found  terribly  beaten  the  next  morning.  Each 
victim,  removed  bloody  and  half-dead,  told  the  same  story,  of 
three  ghosts  who  came  through  the  walls  and  battled  each  other 
all  night,  half-killing  the  mortal  occupant.  Once  three  murder- 
ers had  been  locked  together  in  this  cell  and  had  fought  each 
other  all  night,  one  night,  each  man  for  himself.  In  the  morning 
two  were  dead  and  the  third  lived  only  a  few  hours. 

In  1937  the  old  prison  was  razed.  Workmen,  pulling  down  the 
gallows  in  the  central  courtyard,  declared  that  even  then  human 
shapes  writhed  in  the  clouds  of  dust,  grinning  and  grimacing,  as 
though  every  murderer  who  had  ever  died  on  those  gallows  re- 
turned to  revel  in  the  destruction  of  the  scene.  Through  all  its 
long  life  the  jail  had  been  a  grim  and  perfect  setting  for  ghostly 
manifestations. 

The  old  Parish  Prison  at  Tulane  and  Saratoga  had  its  share  of 
ghosts,  too.  The  New  Orleans  Daily  Picayune,  January  Z3,  1882., 
reported  that  there  had  been  fourteen  attempted  suicides  in  cell 
number  seventeen,  and  most  of  them  succeeded.  The  survivors 
jibbered  of  a  red-haired  woman  who  came  down  the  corridor,  en- 
tered the  cell  with  a  smile  and  sadistically  tortured  them  until 


2<)o  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

they  sought  relief  in  death.  Suicides  became  so  prevalent  that 
the  cell  was  not  used  for  years.  Then  the  beautiful  apparition 
haunted  another  cell  on  the  same  floor.  Here  six  women  killed 
themselves  within  three  months.  Police,  too,  vowed  to  have 
seen  the  woman  often,  gave  her  the  title  of  'The  Redheaded 
Countess,'  because  of  her  fiery  tresses  and  regal  manner.  Once  a 
Captain  Bachemin  passed  her  on  the  stairs.  She  touched  his  coat, 
and  her  fingers  seared  through  the  material,  leaving  a  hole  in  his 
clothing  and  scorching  his  flesh.  Or  so  he  claimed. 

An  entire  crew  of  malevolent  spirits  tormented  a  Mrs.  Lee  and 
her  daughter,  who  resided  at  Coliseum  and  Ninth  Streets.  The 
father  had  been  murdered  by  thugs  and  returned  often  to  beg  his 
daughter  to  play  the  piano  for  him.  Yet  when  she  did  so  evil 
spirits  accompanying  the  father  would  beat  her  black  and  blue. 
Every  time  she  played  the  poor  girl  emerged  from  the  ordeal 
feeling  and  looking  as  though  she  had  been  tossed  into  the  center 
of  a  free-for-all  fight.  The  most  gruesome  angle  of  the  affair  was 
that  Mr.  Lee  had  no  head,  and  that  he  was  always  begging  his 
daughter  to  find  his  head. 

One  Sunday  a  minister,  preaching  a  doleful  sermon  on  sin,  ex- 
hibited a  skull  on  his  pulpit  as  an  example  of  the  end  of  mortal 
man.  A  woman  in  the  congregation  learned  that  the  skull  was 
Lee's,  that  it  had  been  turned  over  to  him  by  a  doctor,  who  had 
obtained  it  from  the  coroner.  Having  read  the  ghost  story  in  the 
newspapers,  she  begged  the  skull  from  the  minister  and  brought 
it  to  the  widow  and  daughter.  After  it  was  buried  beside  the 
balance  of  his  remains  the  ghosts  never  returned. 

A  headless  phantom  paraded  about  a  Derbigny  Street  house 
for  years.  No  one  could  live  there,  and  literally  a  dozen  people 
swore  to  the  existence  of  the  apparition.  A  male  specter  with  a 
slashed,  blood-dripping  throat  used  to  stroll  about  the  Old  Shell 
Road,  terrorizing  numerous  persons.  Just  a  few  years  ago  uptown 
Baronne  Street  was  cast  into  excitement  by  a  ghost  who  walked 
about  the  house  where  he  had  resided  in  life,  seeking  and  begging 
for  a  drink  of  water.  Sometimes  he  found  a  faucet  in  the  bath- 
room or  kitchen  and  then  he  always  left  the  tap  open.  Mornings 
the  people  living  in  the  place  would  find  a  faucet  running  full 
blast.  This  ghost  had  been  a  grocer  and  had  maintained  his  busi- 


Ghosts 

ness  in  the  first  room  of  the  house,  living  in  the  rear.  Rumor 
spread  that  he  had  accumulated  great  wealth  and  had  hidden  it 
in  the  walls  of  the  place,  and  that  this  explained  his  return  from 
the  grave.  Nothing  was  ever  found,  however. 

A  few  years  ago  there  was  a  shower  of  bricks  at  1813  St.  An- 
thony Street.  For  days  a  single  brick  crashed  into  the  yard  every 
few  minutes  at  regular  intervals.  No  matter  how  many  persons 
viewed  the  phenomenon  the  bricks  continued  to  come.  Windows 
were  smashed,  at  least  one  woman  was  struck  and  injured. 
Police  came  and  went  and  wrung  their  hands.  No  cause  was 
ever  discovered. 

A  Frenchwoman  who  operated  a  boarding-house  in  New  Or- 
leans suffered  a  streak  of  bad  luck  back  in  19x5 .  Then  one  of  her 
roomers  became  ill  and  complained  to  the  doctor  that  he  felt  as 
if  he  had  been  eating  great  quantities  of  raw  turnips.  He  died, 
leaving  all  he  possessed  to  Madame.  A  few  days  later  a  second 
roomer  fell  ill  and  died,  also  leaving  Madame  the  proceeds  of  a 
substantial  life-insurance  policy.  When  a  third  boarder  passed 
away  the  next  week,  again  leaving  Madame  insurance  money, 
the  balance  of  the  inmates  of  the  establishment  began  to  whisper 
unkind  things,  and  when  a  fourth  boarder  fell  ill,  his  brother 
moved  him  from  the  house,  saying  the  place  was  cursed.  This 
last  man  recovered. 

It  was  now  recalled  that  every  ill  person  had  complained  just 
as  the  first  one  had  —  of  a  sensation  of  having  eaten  a  large 
amount  of  raw  turnips.  But  nothing  came  of  it;  each  death  had, 
according  to  summoned  physicians,  been  from  natural  causes. 
Madame,  embarrassed  by  gossip,  sold  her  business  and  moved  to 
a  nice  cottage  in  the  suburbs,  where  she  was  able  to  live  very 
comfortably  on  the  various  insurances  left  her  by  the  deceased 
boarders.  Years  afterward  she  revealed  an  amazing  story  to  a 
close  friend. 

Just  before  the  first  death,  she  said,  she  had  been  so  desperate 
for  money  that  she  had  not  known  where  she  would  find  suffi- 
cient funds  to  buy  provisions  for  her  table.  Sitting  in  the  dining- 
room  that  afternoon  she  had  been  at  her  wit's  end;  there  was 
nothing  in  the  kitchen  to  eat  and  the  dinner  hour  was  drawing 
closer  and  closer.  Suddenly,  in  the  middle  of  the  dining-room, 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

there  appeared  a  large  bed  and  in  it  lay  a  man  with  snow-white 
hair.  He  smiled  and  asked  her  to  tell  him  her  troubles. 

When  she  had  finished,  his  advice  was  simple.  Why  not  feed 
the  boarders  on  raw  turnips?  Oh,  no,  Madame  protested.  Who 
could  live  on  raw  turnips?  What  would  her  boarders  say?  That 
was  too  ridiculous,  and  she  had  always  enjoyed  such  a  reputation 
for  a  fine  table  and  Creole  cooking  of  the  best.  Certainly,  they 
would  all  leave.  But  the  man  begged  her  to  try  it. 

'But  who  are  you?'  cried  Madame,  in  amazement. 

'Mark  Twain,'  said  the  ghost,  and  promptly  vanished,  bed 
included. 

So  Madame  went  to  market,  without  any  thought  of  wrong, 
and  spent  the  little  money  she  had  on  turnips.  When  she  re- 
turned she  sliced  them,  diced  them,  pared  them  and  served  them 
whole,  filling  every  dish  on  the  table  with  turnips  in  all  shapes, 
sizes  and  conditions.  The  boarders  sat  down,  ate  heartily,  and 
complimented  her  on  the  excellent  beef,  the  superb  vegetables, 
the  delicious  dessert.  Yet  all  they  had  eaten  was  raw  turnips. 

This  went  on  for  some  time,  Mark  Twain  appearing  every  day 
to  chuckle  over  his  joke.  Madame  began  to  make  money.  But, 
unfortunately,  either  she  overdid  it  or  the  boarders  overate.  The 
deaths  worried  Madame  a  great  deal.  The  cases  attracted  atten- 
tion all  over  the  city.  As  recently  as  January  19,  1930,  the  New 
Orleans  Item  Tribune  carried  an  account  of  this  amazing  instance 
of  spectral  assistance  in  making  a  financial  success  of  a  boarding- 
house. 

Another  Frenchwoman,  this  one  living  in  the  Vieux  Carre  in 
about  1930,  claimed  to  have  been  in  constant  communication 
with  the  spirit  world.  One  day  a  couple  moved  in  the  house  next 
door  to  hers  and  she  learned  that  they  had  lost  their  five  little 
daughters  —  that  all  had  been  kidnapped  and  never  found.  Soon 
afterward  she  saw  five  beautiful  bubbles,  large  glittering  spheres 
of  silver  and  gold,  floating  over  the  house.  Immediately  she  told 
the  family  next  door  that  the  bubbles  were  their  lost  children. 
The  mother  could  see  the  bubbles,  too,  and  on  one  occasion  she 
heard  childish  laughter  as  the  globes  were  wafted  over  the  back- 
yard. The  clairvoyant  told  the  parents  that  the  children  had 
been  murdered  and  that  their  bones  were  in  a  box,  and  the  box 


Ghosts  —  29) 

buried  near  a  certain  bayou.  The  couple  and  witnesses  journeyed 
there  and  the  box  and  bones  were  found  exactly  where  the 
woman  had  predicted  they  would  be  found. 

Of  course  New  Orleans 's  Vieux  Carre  is  haunted  by  scores  of 
ghosts.  Practically  every  house  has  its  phantom. 

The  famous  'Haunted  House*  of  Madame  La  Laurie,  undoubt- 
edly the  best  known  of  those  in  this  oldest  section  of  the  city,  has 
been  so  much  publicized  that  there  is  no  use  repeating  here  its 
controversial  tale  of  slave-torture,  flight  and  envy. 

The  quadroon  slave  girl  who  walks  sans  clothing  on  the  roof  of 
a  house  in  the  700  block  of  Royal  Street  is  almost  as  well  known. 
This  girl  was  the  mistress  of  a  young,  aristocratic  Creole.  Am- 
bitious, she  demanded  marriage,  and  her  lover  promised  to  give 
her  his  name  if  she  would  prove  her  love  by  spending  a  night  on 
the  rooftop  naked.  It  was  December  and  bitter  cold,  but  the  girl, 
determined  to  take  her  place  as  his  wife,  mounted  to  the  roof  and 
removed  her  clothes.  Within  a  few  hours  she  collapsed  from  the 
cold  and  died.  Now  this  young  and  beautiful  shade  still  does  her 
phantasmal  strip-tease  on  December  nights.  Or  so  say  the 
neighbors. 

The  New  Orleans  Daily  News  of  July  4,  1907,  reported  a  phantom 
in  St.  Ann  Street  near  Royal.  This  apparition  attracted  wide- 
spread attention  and  became  known  as  the  '  Witch  of  the  French 
Opera.'  Beginning  a  nightly  pilgrimage  from  the  old  French 
Opera  House,  this  terrible  wraith,  a  woman  with  snow-white 
hair  and  a  bony,  ashen  face,  lit  with  fiery  red  eyes,  would,  after 
descending  the  steps  of  the  opera  house,  walk  to  St.  Ann  Street 
and  Royal,  and  there  vanish  into  a  certain  rooming-house.  Many 
persons  saw  her,  especially  tenants  of  the  rooming-house,  who 
met  her  in  the  hall  and  on  the  stairs.  Next  day  they  always 
moved. 

Legend  reported  that  a  woman  in  the  vicinity,  growing  old, 
had  taken  a  young  lover.  After  discovering  his  infidelity  with  a 
young  girl,  she  wrote  a  letter  to  the  police,  saying  she  would 
return,  and  then  committed  suicide.  The  next  night  her  spirit 
entered  the  room  where  the  young  lovers  slept,  turned  on  the 
gas  and  asphyxiated  them. 

For  the  next  decade  her  ghost  haunted  that  neighborhood, 


2$ 4  ~~ '  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

always  making  the  journey  from  the  opera  house  to  the  room 
where  she  had  killed  the  youth  and  his  mistress.  Then  one  day 
a  new  tenant  discovered  a  yellowed  love  letter  between  the 
mantel -shelf  and  the  chimney.  When  she  tossed  it  into  the  fire 
the  ghost  appeared  and  tried  to  snatch  it  from  the  flames.  Fail- 
ing, she  uttered  a  furious  shriek  and  vanished.  After  that  the 
phantom  was  never  seen  again. 

Pere  Dagobert,  once  pastor  of  the  Saint  Louis  Cathedral,  still 
appears,  it  is  said,  walking  up  and  down  the  aisles  of  the  Cathe- 
dral, singing  the  same  hymns  he  loved  to  chant  during  his  life. 

It  seems  Pere  Dagobert  exhibited  many  earthy  characteristics 
for  a  priest.  He  is  reputed  to  have  had  a  passion  for  good  food 
and  fine  wines.  Furthermore,  instead  of  always  appearing  in  the 
somber  garb  of  his  profession,  he  often  wore  the  most  magnifi- 
cent silks  and  laces,  long  silk  hose  and  shoes  with  buckles,  as 
was  the  fashion  among  the  dandies  of  his  era.  He  was  an  ex- 
tremely handsome  man  with  a  superb  baritone  voice,  and  his 
appearance  and  singing  used  to  thrill  the  feminine  portion  of  his 
congregation.  But  he  was  genuinely  beloved,  and  not  one  of  his 
parishioners  ever  doubted  his  spirituality,  though  once  a  bishop 
accused  him  of  gluttony,  drunkenness  and  a  fondness  for  brown 
women.  The  bishop  failed  to  prove  any  of  his  charges.  Now 
P£re  Dagobert  haunts  his  cathedral,  occasionally  can  be  seen 
dressed  in  his  satin  breeches  and  coat  and  flowing  lace  cuffs,  his 
hair  modishly  dressed  and  curled,  dipping  from  his  jeweled  snuff 
box.  Of  course  you  have  to  have  'the  sight'  to  see  him. 

A  certain  apartment  at  714  St.  Peter  Street,  in  the  very  heart 
of  the  Vieux  Carre,  is  still  usually  unoccupied  because  of  the 
ghastly  wraiths  who  appear  to  torment  anyone  who  tries  to 
reside  therein. 

In  the  eigh teen-fifties  a  Doctor  Deschamps,  a  dentist,  hyp- 
notized a  young  girl  for  the  purpose  of  using  her  as  a  medium  to 
locate  buried  treasure.  When  his  scheme  failed  time  after  time, 
he  began  to  beat  and  abuse  her.  The  girl  finally  died  after  long 
weeks  of  abuse  and,  directly,  from  an  overdose  of  chloroform. 
Arrested  and  charged  with  murder,  Deschamps  was  hanged. 

Now  his  ghost  and  that  of  his  victim  return  to  the  scene  of 
his  crime  to  enact  and  re-enact  the  tragic  drama.  They  always 


Ghosts 

appear  together,  the  tenants  will  tell  you,  a  burly,  muscular 
man  with  hairy,  apelike  arms  and  the  cringing  girl.  A  most 
amusing  touch  has  been  added  to  this  story  by  the  introduc- 
tion of  Oliver  La  Farge,  the  well  known  author,  who  once  lived 
in  this  house.  Nowadays  when  the  story  is  told,  it  is  said  that 
Mr.  La  Farge  was  driven  out  by  the  ghosts. 

One  young  man  occupying  the  apartment  was  taking  a  bath 
when  suddenly  in  midair  above  his  head  appeared  the  leering  and 
monstrous  apparition  of  Doctor  Deschamps.  Terrified,  the  youth 
bounded  from  the  tub  and  raced  naked  and  soapy  into  St.  Peter 
Street,  up  Royal.  A  policeman  gave  chase  and  halted  him  with 
startled  yells  and  an  overcoat.  The  young  man  refused  ever  to 
set  foot  in  the  apartment  again,  even  to  collect  his  belongings. 
Friends  had  to  perform  the  task  for  him. 

A  house  at  the  corner  of  Burgundy  and  Barracks  Streets  is  said 
to  have  been  erected  about  1760  to  house  fifteen  hundred  Spanish 
soldiers.  It  is  told  that  double  files  of  soldiers  march  up  and 
down  the  old  galleries,  their  sabers  clanking,  amidst  horrible 
groaning  and  cursing. 

In  early  days  soldiers  of  two  Spanish  kings  were  quartered 
there,  and  there  occurred  a  scandal  which  did  not  leak  out  for 
many  generation's.  In  the  i86o's  a  young  business  man,  de- 
scended from  one  of  the  participants  in  the  affair,  told  the  story. 

During  the  Spanish  regime,  when  the  gold  in  the  Colony  was 
stored  in  these  barracks,  it  was  spirited  away  from  the  strong 
room  in  which  it  was  kept  and  hidden  somewhere  within  the 
walls  of  the  house.  When  troops  were  dispatched  to  the  Flor- 
idas,  a  company  of  men  was  left  in  the  building  and  they  con- 
ceived a  bold  scheme  to  steal  the  gold.  Some,  however,  dis- 
sented and  they  were  put  in  irons.  One  night  these  men  were 
taken  into  a  certain  part  of  the  house  along  one  of  the  galleries 
and  hung  by  their  bare  backs  on  heavy  hooks  set  into  the  wall, 
like  quarters  of  beef.  Their  feet  were  then  spiked  to  the  wall, 
and  a  live  rat  was  tied  to  each  man's  naked  abdomen.  Then  the 
walls  were  plastered  up,  all  but  a  small  portion  where  their 
faces  were,  so  that  they  might  not  die  the  comparatively  easy 
death  of  suffocation,  and  also  so  that  the  rest  of  the  men  could 
enjoy  their  agony  as  the  rats  ate  their  way  into  the  living  bodies. 


2  g  6  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

After  they  had  died  the  faces  were  plastered  over.  The  gold  was 
divided,  after  which  each  of  the  men  became  a  fine  dignified  gen- 
tleman and  the  founder  of  a  great  family. 

To  this  day,  along  that  thick  wall,  a  row  of  hideous  faces  ap- 
pears in  the  moonlight.  Mammoth  rats  come  out  of  the  walls, 
to  play  and  roll  about  like  kittens  on  the  floor  and  in  the  court- 
yard. Many  persons  have  tried  to  feed  these  rats,  but  they  never 
eat;  their  ghost  bodies  survive  forever  on  that  feast  of  human 
vitals.  One  young  man,  in  1932.,  allowed  a  rat  to  step  on  his 
hand  and  crawl  up  his  arm.  The  arm  was  immediately  crushed 
and  had  to  be  placed  in  splints  for  weeks. 

Every  night  a  light  glows  on  the  winding  staircase.  A  man's 
head  and  shoulders  can  be  plainly  seen,  sitting  at  a  small  table 
beside  a  window,  counting  gold  coins.  There  is  no  table  here,  no 
window.  Only  the  stair  and  a  wide  corridor.  People  have  even 
dared  to  walk  up  to  the  place  where  the  man  is  seated  at  night, 
but  they  see  nothing  then.  In  the  garret  the  thick  walls  are  a 
mass  of  inner  tunnels.  Legend  guesses  that  the  man  on  the  stair- 
case was  the  keeper  of  the  gold,  in  a  narrow  room  between  the 
walls,  and  that  he,  too,  died  within  the  stiffening  cement.  The 
fact  that  this  house  was  not  standing  in  Spanish  times  is  ignored 
by  those  who  tell  the  story. 

Another  old  New  Orleans  house  was  visited  by  a  newspaper 
reporter  a  number  of  years  ago.  The  house,  built  in  1770,  had 
been  a  magnificent  mansion,  but  by  this  time  had  fallen  into  a 
disreputable  state,  though  still  the  home  of  a  descendant  of  the 
original  family.  The  reporter  was  grudgingly  admitted  by  an 
ancient  mulatto  servant,  who  made  him  swear  at  the  door  that 
he  would  not  let  any  ghosts  in.  Then  he  was  ushered  upstairs 
and  into  the  presence  of  'The  Senorita,'  a  revolting  old  hag, 
loaded  with  priceless  jewelry  and  wearing  a  blazing  tiara  on  her 
almost  hairless  scalp.  Bunched  in  a  featherbed  in  a  huge  arm- 
chair, she  looked  about  to  fall  apart  right  before  the  young  man's 
eyes.  Even  her  rings  were  tied  to  her  fingers  with  pieces  of  twine, 
the  ends  of  which  had  been  soaked  in  perfumery,  and  these  she 
sucked  noisily  all  the  time. 

'The  Senorita'  was  ninety-five  years  old,  and  her  father  had 
been  dead  more  than  seventy  years,  but  she  fancied  herself  a 


Ghosts 


—  297 


young  girl  and  had  no  memory  of  the  Don's  death,  imagining 
him  on  a  trip  to  Spain.  She  chatted  with  grotesque  gaiety  of  her 
young  beaux,  always  wealthy  young  Spaniards  who  came  to  the 
Casa  Rosa  to  sue  for  her  hand.  She  talked  much  of  her  own 
beauty  and  desirability,  of  the  balls  her  father,  the  Don,  would 
give  in  her  honor  upon  his  return.  She  admitted,  though,  that 
her  callers  never  left  the  house  once  they  called.  They  didn't 
want  to,  said  she.  One  even  poisoned  his  mother  to  give  her  the 
woman's  jewels.  The  Don  always  stole  the  valuables,  but  'The 
Senorita'  invariably  stole  back  whatever  she  wanted.  She  spoke 
whimsically  of  the  rose  garden,  and  implied  it  was  extremely 
'useful/ 

During  the  interview  she  constantly  gave  orders  to  the  mulatto 
servant  for  a  great  dinner  that  night,  hinting  at  promises  of  tor- 
ture for  any  slave  guilty  of  the  slightest  clumsiness.  At  last, 
quite  suddenly,  she  fell  asleep  and  began  to  snore. 

Then  the  reporter  sneaked  off  and  began  to  explore  the  moldy 
house.  In  the  hall  he  encountered  the  phantom  of  a  wobbling 
young  man  in  a  costume  over  a  century  old.  This  ghost  dragged 
him  up  some  slimy  stairs  and  into  the  presence  of  half  a  hundred 
other  spirits,  all  of  young  men.  The  place  was  a  mass  of  writh- 
ing phantoms  and  oozing  filth,  thick  with  the  stench  of  rot- 
ting human  flesh.  Somehow  the  reporter  got  away,  fleeing 
down  those  stairs.  At  the  street  gate  a  ghost  swung  the  gate 
wide,  then  fell  in  two,  as  though  he  had  been  sawed  in  half. 

When  'The  Senorita'  died,  a  year  later,  new  tenants,  renovat- 
ing the  house,  tore  down  the  wall  north  of  the  rose  garden. 
Under  it  lay  buried  about  fifty  skeletons,  all  male  and  young, 
undoubtedly  the  unfortunate  beaux  of  the  beauty  of  the  Casa 
Rosa. 

One  of  the  most  unusual  apparitions  recorded  is  the  lady  ghost 
who,  instead  of  rapping  on  tables  or  slamming  doors  or  frighten- 
ing folk  with  icy  hands,  appeared  as  a  fountain  in  the  center  of 
a  room  in  a  certain  downtown  home.  Suddenly  and  without 
warning,  the  tenant  of  the  room  saw  this  fountain  manifested, 
a  leaping,  bubbling  thing,  throwing  jets  of  water  to  the  ceiling. 
And  the  water  didn't  wet  anything.  Investigation  uncovered  the 
fact  that  a  young  woman  had  died  in  the  room  after  a  blighted 


2  p  8  • —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

love  affair.  It  was  then  decided  that  the  fountain  represented  the 
tears  she  had  shed. 

The  lady  on  one  or  two  occasions  appeared  as  herself,  young 
and,  of  course,  beautiful.  Then  she  started  to  spout.  This  ghost 
finally  refused  to  confine  herself  to  the  one  room  of  the  house, 
however,  but  began  appearing  in  all  the  rooms,  separately  and 
simultaneously.  In  the  following  years  four  or  five  families 
viewed  the  phenomenon. 

Gertrude  Apple,  New  Orleans  Negress,  intends  to  be  a  ghost 
when  she  dies,  and  she  is  going  to  haunt  the  white  woman  for 
whom  she  works. 

'You  better  leave  Gertrude  alone,'  the  husband  of  her  mistress 
told  his  wife,  according  to  Gertrude.  'That  dark  gal's  sure 
gonna  haunt  you  when  she  dies.' 

'  And  I  sure  is  gonna  haunt  her,'  Gertrude  admits.  '  I'm  gonna 
haunt  her  very  soul.  She's  nice  in  her  way,  but  she  pays  cheap.' 

One  night  a  ghost  came  into  Gertrude's  room.  He  wore  a 
flashy  checked  suit,  carried  a  walking  cane  and  he  was  black  as 
ink. 

'  He  come  up  to  my  bed/  Gertrude  said,  '  and  dropped  that  cane 
on  the  floor,  and  it  didn't  make  no  noise  at  all.  Then  he  throwed 
one  of  his  legs  over  me.  I  yelled,  "Get  away  from  me,  you!" 
And  he  wented. 

1  Another  time,'  said  she,  '  a  rooster  done  appeared  in  my  room. 
That  thing  changed  into  a  man,  then  into  a  cow.  Then  it  dis- 
appeared —  jest  evapulated.  Was  I  glad.  Whew!  Sometimes 
I'm  sorry  I  can  see  spirits,  they  scare  me  so.  Spirits  is  bad  if  you 
ain't  a  Christian,  but  if  you  is  and  you  is  borned  with  a  veil  over 
your  face  you  ain't  got  no  thin'  to  worry  about. 

4 1  seen  plenty  of  witches,  too.  Them  things  ride  you  at  night. 
They  done  tried  to  ride  me,  but  I  hollers,  "In  the  name  of  my 
religion,  help  me,  good  spirits!"  And  the  witches  run.  Witches 
don't  mess  with  spirits.  I  think  lots  of  white  peoples  is  witches. 
Others  is  just  plain  bitches. 

'  I  sure  cried  when  Huey  P.  Long  died.  He  was  gonna  give  me 
money  from  them  rich  peoples.  He  was  gonna  strictly  share  the 
wealth.  I  sure  cried  when  he  was  'sassquanated.  I  been  tryin' 
to  see  his  spirit,  but  I  ain't  had  no  luck  with  him.  But  my 


Ghosts  ~  299 

grandma  came  back  from  Heaven  and  she  tell  me  he  is  fine  — 
lookin'  better  and  feelin'  better  than  he  ever  did.  He's  got 
money,  too.  That  I  knows!' 

Aunt  Jessie  Collins,  an  authority  on  supernatural  manifesta- 
tions, explained  it  all  this  way, 

'Ghosts  is  liable  to  look  like  anything,'  said  she.  'Some 
comes  back  just  like  they  was  when  they  died,  but  others  turns 
into  animals  and  balls  of  fire  or  things  with  long  teeths  and  hairy 
arms.  You  can  just  walk  around  all  your  life  lookin'  at  things 
and  you  don't  never  know  when  you  is  lookin'  at  a  ghost.  My 
grandpa  seen  one  once  and  it  sure  did  him  a  lot  of  good. 

4  You  see,  my  grandpa  was  a  drinkin'  man,  and  you  know  how 
mens  sees  things  when  they  is  in  their  cups.  Still,  my  grandpa 
didn't  drink  quite  that  much.  We  was  livin'  way  out  in  the 
country  then,  and  he  had  to  walk  to  town  and  back  to  get  his- 
self  his  gin.  Well,  one  night  he  come  home,  walkin'  down  that 
dark  country  road,  not  studyin'  about  nothin',  or  nothin',  and 
he  heared  somethin'  walkin'  behind  him.  My  grandpa  turned 
aroun',  and  seen  it  wasn't  nothin'  but  a  little  ole  white  dog. 
"Hello,  little  ole  dog,"  my  grandpa  said.  "Where  you  goin' 
at?"  Outside  of  that  he  didn't  pay  it  no  mind.  Jest  kept  walkin '. 
That  little  old  dog  followed  him  clean  to  his  door. 

'  Now,  when  my  grandpa  reached  his  front  door,  he  heard  that 
dog  paddin'  up  on  the  porch  back  of  him,  and  he  heared  my 
grandma  breathin'  mad-like  right  inside,  jest  waitin'  for  him. 
He  turned  around,  and  say,  "Go  'way,  little  ole  dog.  You  don't 
want  to  mess  in  this  business." 

'He  went  to  say  more,  but  the  words  jest  stuck  in  his  throat, 
'cause  he  seen  now  that  that  dog  wasn't  no  dog  at  all,  but  a  big 
white  ghost  fifteen  feets  tall  with  two  heads  and  'bout  twelve 
arms.  My  grandpa  jest  fell  right  smack  down  on  that  porch  and 
lay.  My  grandma  run  out  when  she  heared  the  noise  and  drug 
him  inside.  She  didn't  hit  him  or  nothing,  'cause  he  had  done 
plumb  fainted.  He  was  in  bed  nearly  a  week.  No,  my  grandma 
didn't  see  no  ghost.  I  always  figured  that  ghost  knowed  my 
grandma  and  he  run  when  he  heared  her  comin'  out.  But  you 
know  after  that  my  grandpa  didn't  touch  no  liquor  for  more  than 
a  month?' 


Chapter  15 


Crazah  and  the  Glory  Road 


'GOT  A  FUNERAL?  GOT  A  WAKE?'  CRAZAH 
blinked  his  eyes,  passed  a  hand  over  his  black  forehead,  rubbing 
his  brow  gently,  as  if  in  hope  of  coaxing  his  brain  to  function 
with  more  speed. 

'His  nose  done  smelled  a  wake  and  his  ears  done  beared 
Gabriel's  trumpet,'  commented  an  old  woman,  gazing  down  on 
the  little  man  in  the  much-too-large  tuxedo.  '  Ain't  never  been 
.a  funeral  in  town  Crazah  couldn't  find.' 

He  ignored  her  completely,  moving  to  the  coffin  at  the  other 
end  of  the  undertaking  parlors.  He  bowed  before  the  corpse 
several  times,  his  lips  grinning  sardonically,  but  his  eyes,  as 
always,  perfectly  blank. 

'Hello,  Louie!'  Another  woman  touched  his  elbow.  'Come 
sit  by  me,'  she  invited,  and  led  him  gently  to  a  chair  far  in  the 
rear  of  the  room. 

But  he  couldn't  sit  quietly.  He  moved  up  and  down,  clapped 
his  hands,  stared  at  the  ceiling,  squirmed  restlessly.  When  the 
singing  started  he  contributed  rhythmic  clapping  of  his  hands 
and  stomping  of  his  feet.  When  the  praying  started,  he  prayed 
loud  and  with  all  the  energy  he  could  muster.  Only  when  the 


Crazah  and  the  Glory  Road  —  3  o  i 

preacher  began  to  preach  did  Louie  retreat  to  a  seat,  to  sit  there 
with  his  bulging  eyes  glued  to  the  preacher's  mouth,  as  if  he 
were  soaking  up  every  word. 

Time  came  to  eat;  ham  and  crackers  and  coffee  were  passed 
among  the  mourners,  and  he  helped  himself  at  least  three  times. 
Then,  slouching  down  in  his  chair,  eyes  closed,  mouth  open,  he 
went  to  sleep. 

Every  Negro  in  New  Orleans  knows  Louie  Williams,  called, 
variously,  Crazah,  The  Dead  and  Alive  Man,  The  Goofy  Man 
or  just  THAT  Man.  Whenever  and  wherever  there  is  a  funeral, 
Louis  will  be  there  as  surely  as  is  Death  itself. 

Perhaps  this  Crazah  is  only  a  personified  exaggeration  of  col- 
ored people's  love  for  'buryin's';  for  if  Negroes  don't  greet  the 
actual  act  of  dying  with  joy,  they  certainly  make  the  most  of 
the  rites  that  follow  it.  And  the  more  important  the  person,  the 
more  elaborate  are  those  ceremonies  certain  to  be.  Negroes  pre- 
pare for  dying  all  their  lives.  As  one  of  them  put  it,  '  Moses  died, 
Elijah  died.  All  the  strong  men  die  and  all  the  weak  men  die. 
There  is  no  two  ways  about  it,  we  all  must  die.  So  why  not  be 
ready  for  it,  brother?'  They  save  money  carefully  for  this  inev- 
itable day,  join  numerous  lodges  and  funeral  societies. 

4  A  woman's  got  to  belong  to  at  least  seven  secret  societies  if 
she  'spects  to  get  buried  with  any  style,'  revealed  Luella  John- 
son .  '  And  the  more  lodges  you  belongs  to,  the  more  music  you 
gits  when  you  goes  to  meet  your  Maker.  I  belongs  to  enough 
now  to  have  shoes  on  my  feets.  I  knows  right  now  what  I'm 
gonna  have  at  my  wake.  I  already  done  checked  off  chicken 
salad  and  coffee. 

'  I'm  sure  lookin'  forward  to  my  wake.  They  is  wakin'  me  for 
four  nights  and  I  is  gonna  have  the  biggest  funeral  the  church 
ever  had.  That's  why  everything  I  makes  goes  to  the  church 
and  them  societies.  I  wants  a  pink  casket  and  I'm  gonna  be 
wearin'  a  pink  evenin'  dress,  with  pink  satin  shoes  on  my  feets 
and  a  pink  hat  on  my  haid  so  they  won't  look  too  hard  at  my 
wig. 

'Geddes  and  Moss  is  the  funeral  parlor  where  they  has  the 
real  'ristocratic  buryin's.  They  serves  them  cocktails  and  little 
sandwiches  and  big  society  suppers.  Sometimes  they  gits  so 


$02 —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

many  peoples  at  wakes  they  gotta  feed  'em  in  shifts.  But  most 
people  like  chicken  and  spaghetti  or  weiner  sandwiches.  The 
mens  always  brings  liquor  and  then  you  really  hears  some 
shoutin'  and  weepin'.  Does  they  put  it  on!  They  always  has  a 
light  in  the  coffin,  shinin'  right  smack  in  the  dead  person's  face, 
and  a  clock  to  show  the  sad  hour  they  was  took.  A  girl  corpse 
is  turned  on  one  side  and  her  right  hand  hangs  out  the  casket 
with  a  big  dinner  ring  on  one  finger.  Man,  it  sure  looks  pretty! 
'Course  they  takes  it  off  before  they  close  the  coffin,  'cause  they 
uses  it  all  the  time.  In  their  other  hand  girl  corpses  always  car- 
ries long  white  gloves.  All  the  mens  is  laid  away  in  them  stylish 
full  dress  suits,  and  is  kind  of  raised  up  high  so  you  can  see  'em 
good. 

'  When  my  husband  died  I  give  him  a  fine  funeral.  I  went  in 
deep  mourning  and  wore  me  a  long  widow's  veil.  Every  day  I'd 
go  to  the  cemetery  and  cry  all  day  by  his  grave.  But  his  spirit 
started  to  haunt  me  some  thin'  terrible.  I  had  chickens  and  every 
night  he'd  come  back  wearin'  a  white  apron  and  shoo  my  chick- 
ens. Every  mornin'  some  of  'em  would  be  dead.  We  had  a 
horse  and  that  haunt  done  drove  me  and  him  both  crazy.  Then 
I  got  mad  and  I  quit  goin*  to  the  cemetery,  and  I  took  off  that 
widow's  veil.  I  put  black  pepper  'round  the  sills  of  all  my  doors. 
That  stopped  him;  that  always  chases  ghostses.  You  know  I 
wouldn't  go  near  no  graveyard  on  All  Saints'  Day  for  no  thin'. 
No,  sir!  Them  evil  spirits  just  whizzes  by  you  like  the  wind  and 
knocks  you  flat  on  the  ground.' 

The  big  '  'ristocratic'  funerals  are  the  ones  Crazah  likes  best. 
They're  more  exciting  than  the  humbler  affairs  and  there's  more 
to  eat  and  drink  and  more  music.  And  next  to  death,  food  and 
music  are  Crazah's  passions.  He  never  leaves  any  wake  until  the 
eating  is  over,  though  he  is  very  tolerant  regarding  what  is 
served.  If  the  family  is  well  fixed,  they'll  be  chicken  and  whis- 
key, and  he'll  help  himself  freely  to  the  chicken,  but  will  pass  up 
the  whiskey,  as  he  doesn't  drink  or  smoke.  If  the  family  is  poor, 
he  is  perfectly  satisfied  to  feast  on  cheese  sandwiches  and  coffee. 
After  eating  he  usually  makes  his  departure,  unless  there  is  only 
the  one  wake  in  town.  In  that  case,  he'll  curl  up  and  nap  until 
breakfast  is  served.  He  particularly  likes  home  funerals,  for 


Cra^ah  and  the  Glory  Road 

there  is  often  more  to  eat  at  these  than  at  the  affairs  in  the  under- 
taking establishments. 

Joe  Geddes,  of  Geddes  and  Moss,  said,  '  Louie  has  a  grand  time 
at  funerals  and  wakes.  And  don't  think  he's  as  crazy  as  people 
imagine  he  is.  Oh,  I  admit  he's  a  little  cracked,  but  aren't  we 
all?  He  sure  knows  how  to  get  by  without  working.  He  does 
all  his  eating  at  wakes  and  most  of  his  sleeping.  He  always 
dresses  in  clothes  people  give  him,  and  they're  always  too  large 
because  Louie's  so  small,  hardly  five  feet.  Sometimes  he'll  show 
up  in  a  frayed  tuxedo,  other  times  in  overalls.  But  we  like  to 
have  him  around.  Everybody  knows  him. 

'  The  boys  played  a  joke  on  him  one  time.  We  weren't  so  busy 
that  night  and  one  of  the  fellows  dressed  up  in  a  sheet  and  stood 
beside  an  open  casket.  We  told  Louie  there  was  a  spirit  in  the 
back  and  he  ought  to  go  see  it.  Louie  went  on  back  and  just 
stood  there  staring  at  the  fellow  in  the  white  outfit.  It  was  okay 
until  that  "ghost"  moved.  Then  Louie  let  out  one  yell  and  ran 
right  out  of  the  building.  Afterwards  he  explained,  "Me  not 
scared  of  dead  man,  but  scared  of  man  that  moves." 

In  his  befuddled  mind  Louie  considers  himself  a  preacher. 
Sometimes  he  attempts  to  preach  a  full  sermon  at  funerals,  but  no 
one  can  understand  very  much  that  he  says.  At  church  he's 
always  testifying  and  leading  the  singing.  But  he'll  never 
preach  a  word  unless  somebody  gives  him  money.  'Preachers 
don't  work  for  nothin ','  he  says.  And  neither  will  he  do  any 
other  sort  of  work.  'Preachers  don't  work  at  nothin'  but 
preachin' !'  is  another  of  his  strong  beliefs. 

Sunshine  Money  is  his  favorite  preacher.  Sunshine  Money  is 
known  all  over  the  state  as  a  hard  praying  soul-saver,  and  also 
as  'the  man  who  changes  automobiles  every  year,'  the  latter 
indicative  of  his  financial  success. 

Crazah  loves  to  imitate  Sunshine  Money  at  funerals.  He 
stoops  over  and  waves  his  hands  and  carries  on  just  like  Sunshine 
Money  does.  Johnny  Jackson  related  this  story  at  Geddes  and 
Moss: 

'Louie  went  to  a  funeral  Sunshine  Money  was  conducting. 
The  body  was  brought  into  the  church  at  one  o'clock,  and  Sun- 
shine preached  that  soul  into  Heaven  from  then  until  five-thirty, 


5  o  4  ~  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

and  was  still  going  strong.  Louie  hadn't  been  to  the  wake,  had 
arrived  at  the  funeral  late,  and  hadn't  eaten  a  thing,  so  he  wasn't 
having  a  very  good  time.  He  kept  squirming  around  on  his 
bench  until  the  woman  next  to  him  asked  him  what  was  wrong. 
Louie  said,  "Late.  Let's  go  to  graveyard."  Then  he  went  to 
work  on  Sunshine  Money.  That  ole  preacher  was  still  going  to 
town  preaching  that  man  into  Heaven.  Louie  stood  up,  pointed 
a  finger  toward  the  ceiling,  and  said,  "That's  him.  That's  him. 
He's  almost  there !' '  Sunshine  Money  frowned,  looked  at  Louie, 
at  the  ceiling,  then  at  his  big  gold  watch.  Finally  he  said,  "I 
guess  I  got  to  stop  now.  He  ain't  quite  in  Heaven,  but  he's 
close.  Louie  done  showed  him  to  me.  I  guess  that  nigger  can 
go  the  rest  of  the  way  by  hisself . ' '  And  with  that  the  funeral  left 
for  the  cemetery.  You  think  that  Crazah's  dumb?' 

When  Mother  Clara  James  Hyde  passed  to  her  reward,  Louie 
had  a  wake  to  attend  that  was  definitely  in  the  A-i  class. 
Mother  Hyde's  body  rested  in  a  casket  of  orchid  plush.  She  wore 
a  gown  of  royal  purple,  trimmed  generously  with  'ruffles  on  the 
bosom  upon  which  so  many  had  poured  forth  tears  of  woe.  On 
her  head  she  wore  a  crown  of  brilliant  rhinestones,  and  inside  the 
casket  was  a  pink  bedlight;  over  all,  cascading  frothily  to  the 
floor  was  a  filmy  veil  of  brightest  red.  The  followers  of  the 
famous  healer  and  prophesier  had  placed  her  in  a  setting  of  which 
they  could  be  proud.  Tall  palms  arched  above  the  coffin  and  at 
each  end  was  a  standing  basket  holding  a  lavish  bouquet  of 
flowers,  and  by  each  of  these,  in  constant  vigil,  sat  one  of  Mother 
Hyde's  co-workers,  silent  and  lachrymose,  except  for  occasional 
emotional  outbursts,  when  one  would  howl:  'Lord  Jesus,  bless 
Thy  Name!'  or  'Mother  ain't  daid.  She's  just  sleepin'!' 

As  the  church  she  had  conducted  for  so  many  years  —  St. 
James  Temple  No.  z  —  filled,  the  speakers'  platform  crowded 
with  the  pastors  of  other  churches.  The  service  opened  with  the 
singing  of  'What  a  Friend  We  Have  in  Jesus,'  accompanied  by 
the  feeble  notes  of  a  loose-stringed  piano.  Suddenly  all  heads 
turned.  Mother  Kemper,  resplendent  in  white  velvet,  was  sway- 
ing up  the  aisle,  undulating  slowly  and  voluptuously  to  the 
music.  A  voice  shouted,  'Now  we  is  gonna  hear  some  real 
preachin' !'  But  it  was  not  to  be.  Mother  Kemper  struck  a  very 


Cra%ah  and  the  Glory  Road  —  ^  o  f 

effective  pose  before  the  casket  for  a  few  minutes,  then  modestly 
retired  to  a  seat  with  the  other  church  leaders.  '.'•$-. 

Now  the  competition  began  in  earnest.  One  preacher  after 
another  rose  to  extoll  the  virtues  of  Mother  Hyde.  One  of  the 
reverends  was  heard  to  remark,  as  the  competition  grew  fiercer, 
'  This  is  gettin'  to  be  a  cutthroat  business !'  Every  speaker  talked 
for  at  least  an  hour.  And  between  sermons  solos  were  rendered, 
mourners  clapping  their  hands  and  stomping  their  feet  to  the 
music,  shouting  'Amen!  Amen!'  at  the  end  of  every  line.  The 
first '  passing  out'  occurred.  A  woman  fell  flat  on  her  face  before 
the  casket. 

Mother  Kemper  at  last  contributed  her  bit.  Standing  ma- 
jestically in  the  center  of  the  platform,  her  eyes  raised  and  her 
white  velvet  clad  arms  outstretched,  she  intoned,  'I  can  see  the 
Angel  Gabriel  lookin'  through  the  periscope  of  glory  down  the 
long  road  of  time  and  he  sees  a  weary  traveler.  That's  Mother 
Hyde  carryin'  her  burden  of  good  deeds  to  the  Golden  Gate.' 

Members  of  the  congregation  shouted : 

'Very  nice!' 

'Sure  feels  good.' 

'Tell  it  to  me!' 

'Mother  don't  want  to  come  back  to  this  world.  Sleep  on, 
Mother!' 

'Amen,  sister!    Amen!' 

'Lawd,  you  knows  our  names  and  the  numbers  of  our  pages! 
You  calls  us  like  you  pleases  and  if  you  pleases!' 

It  continued  until  midnight.  Then  one  of  the  guards  sprang 
to  her  feet,  her  emotions  at  a  boiling  point,  and  screamed,  'Jesus 
God!  Bless  Thy  Name!  Bless  Thy  Name!'  Her  head  lolling 
around  on  her  thin  neck  and  her  eyeballs  protruding,  she  pro- 
ceeded to  collapse.  This  seemed  to  bring  on  a  recess,  which  was 
spent  by  everyone  making  numerous  trips  to  the  basement  for 
ham  sandwiches  and  coffee. 

This  over,  the  body  was  viewed  by  all  present,  tears  streaming 
down  dusky  cheeks,  big  black  bucks  crying  like  children  as  they 
gazed  down  on  the  crowned  head  of  Mother  Hyde.  Then  the 
speeches  started  again. 

A  preacher  ventured  to  say  that  Mother  Hyde  had  had  a  fault. 


j  o  6  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

This  was  answered  by  catcalls  and  cries  of,  '  Sit  down !  4  Tain't  so, 
brother  L'  Then  he  explained  her  fault  had  been  in  too  much 
goodness  of  heart,  in  trusting  people  too  far.  Now  they  shouted, 
'Say  on,  brother!  Ain't  it  the  truth!' 

A  quartet  rose  and  sang,  jazzing  their  hymn,  patting  their  feet 
and  swaying.  When  they  finished  the  crowd  was  swaying  and 
shaking  with  them.  There  was  no  avoiding  an  encore.  Some- 
one cried,  'We  is  gonna  sing,  we  is  gonna  shout,  we  is  gonna 
preach  until  everybody  is  gone.' 

And  it  went  on  all  night  long.  A  wake  to  warm  the  cockles  of 
Louis  Williams 's  heart. 

Marching  to  the  cemetery  is  a  mournful  and  sad  affair,  but  it's 
an  important  kind  of  mournfulness  and  an  impressive  kind  of 
sadness.  The  Young  and  True  Friends  Benevolent  Association  of 
Carrollton,  yth  Division,  turned  out  in  full  force  not  long  ago, 
when  a  member  went  to  glory.  To  the  poignant  strains  of 
'Massa's  in  the  Cold,  Cold  Ground,'  attired  in  black  suits, 
white  shirts,  black  derbies  and  white  gloves,  with  arm  ribbons 
of  black  and  silver,  and  led  by  the  gorgeously  attired,  six-foot, 
coal-black  Grand  Marshal,  who  wore  a  jet  velvet  cordon 
trimmed  with  silver  braid  and  stars,  they  marched  with  solem- 
nity, with  dignity,  and  gusto,  their  brand  new,  shiny-black 
shoes  keeping  perfect  time  with  the  music.  The  organization 
banner  was  red  lined  in  silver  and  bore  the  words  '  Young  and 
True  Friends'  in  huge  letters  of  gold.  In  the  center  were  two 
hands  clasped  across  a  turbulent  sea,  a  white  dove  and  a  pair  of 
closely  cuddled  and  burning  hearts.  One  member  carried  a  gavel 
wrapped  in  black  crepe,  another  an  American  flag,  and  still  an- 
other a  Blue  Jack,  with  silver  stars  on  a  blue  background. 

The  ceremonies  at  the  grave  were  short  and  simple,  but  every- 
one stayed  until  the  last  clod  of  dirt  was  put  on  the  casket.  A 
sister  of  the  deceased  waited  until  everyone  else  reached  the 
grave  before  she  began  a  slow  march  forward,  the  crowd  parting 
to  let  her  through;  she  was  supported  on  each  side  by  a  woman, 
in  a  condition  of  semi-prostration,  and  moaned  over  and  over 
again,  ' I  cain't  stand  it!  I  cain't  stand  it!  Jesus  have  mercy  on 
me!  I  cain't  stand  it!'  As  she  reached  the  hole  in  the  ground, 
her  knees  buckled  under  her  and  she  collapsed  completely. 


Cra%ah  and  the  Glory  Road 

But  when  the  procession  was  half  a  block  from  the  cemetery, 
enroute  home,  the  band  burst  into  'Just  Stay  a  Little  While,' 
and  all  the  True  Friends  performed  individual  and  various  dances, 
and  the  sister,  but  lately  unconscious  with  grief,  was  soon  truck- 
ing with  the  rest  of  them. 

'I  said  Sister  Cordelia  might  outlive  me,  but  she's  sure  gonna 
die.'  That's  what  one  of  Cordelia  Johnson's  friends  admitted 
was  her  conviction  the  last  time  she  had  seen  Sister  Cordelia 
alive. 

'She  died  an  unexpected  death  due  to  bad  symptoms,'  another 
revealed. 

On  the  raised  cover  of  Sister  Johnson's  gray  casket  was  a  small 
hammered  tin  clock  with  the  words  'The  Sad  Hour'  painted 
under  it  in  black,  and  the  clock's  hands  pointing  to  the  hour  of 
death,  this  being  a  favorite  addition  to  coffins  among  Negroes. 
Similarly,  all  clocks  in  the  house  were  stopped  at  the  time  Sister 
Johnson  died. 

The  wake  was  anything  but  dull.  One  of  the  sisters  described 
it,  'We  had  solos  and  duets  and  hymn-singin'  all  night  long. 
The  womens  was  passin'  out  right  and  left.  A  doctor  was  kept 
busy  and  the  smellin'  salts  was  more  popular  than  the  food.' 

The  husband  and  two  daughters  made  a  most  spectacular  en- 
trance at  the  funeral,  coming  up  the  stairs  and  into  the  room, 
•screaming  and  moaning,  alternately.  The  daughter  who  hadn't 
seen  her  mother  for  nine  years  made  the  most  noise. 

'What'll  I  do!  What'll  I  do!'  she  wailed.  'I  ain't  got  no 
mother  to  consulate  me.  Poor  me!'  Facing  the  mourners,  her 
.eyes  squeezed  tight,  but  her  mouth  wide  open,  she  shrieked, 
'Mother!  Mother!  I'm  goin'  to  join  you.  Yes,  I  am!  Yes,  I 
am!  It's  a  horrible  hole.  That's  all  it  is,  a  horrible  black  hole. 
I  ain't  got  no  mother!  Ooh,  Jesus!' 

She  fell  to  her  knees,  rocked  back  and  forth,  tearing  at  her 
hair  with  her  hands,  her  black  face  swollen  and  twisted. 

' I  ain't  got  no  mother  to  consulate  me!'  she  screamed.  'Jesus 
Gawd!'  Then  she  fell  forward  and  was  carried  out. 

The  church  service  was  just  as  eventful.  After  the  preaching 
and  the  praying  and  the  psalm-singing,  members  of  the  various 
societies  circled  the  casket.  Some  of  them  would  shout  and 


•$  o  8  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

scream  hysterically,  finally  fainting  and  having  to  be  carried  out 
One  huge  woman  taxed  the  strength  of  five  men.  Other  sisters 
just  kept  walking  up  and  down,  releasing  screams  periodically. 
This  is  called  the  'walkin'  spirits.'  One  immense  sister  almost 
tore  down  the  church  when  she  had  a  sudden  attack  of  the 
'runnin'  spirits.'  Some  of  the  women  trucked,  others  shook  all 
over,  one  kept  knocking  off  as  many  hats  as  she  could  possibly 
reach. 

Even  Crazah,  a  connoisseur  in  such  matters,  had  to  admit  Cor- 
delia Johnson's  wake  and  funeral  were  events  to  remember. 

Crazah  is  probably  the  only  Negro  in  New  Orleans  who  does 
not  belong  to  at  least  one  burial  society.  Joe  Geddes  has  prom- 
ised to  bury  him  free  of  charge  and  in  befitting  fashion.  Besides 
Geddes  says,  '  He  brings  me  business.  You  know,  no  one  under- 
stands how  Louie  locates  all  the  deaths.  Some  people  say  he 
finds  sick  people  and  prays  that  they  die,  but  I  don't  believe  that. 
Often  he'll  tell  me  about  a  death  of  which  I  didn't  know,  so  I 
can  go  and  bid  for  the  job.  I  won't  forget  those  favors.' 

There  are  literally  hundreds  of  Negro  lodges,  burial  societies 
and  similar  organizations  in  New  Orleans.  For  a  small  weekly 
fee  these  benevolent  and  mutual  aid  associations  furnish  a  doctor 
when  a  member  is  ill  and  a  funeral  of  a  specified  type  and  price  — 
most  often  a  hundred-dollar  affair.  Every  detail  is  included  in 
the  contract,  though  it  is  of  course  true  that  the  more  societies  • 
belonged  to,  the  grander  is  the  funeral.  The  following  are  only 
a  few  of  the  better  known  organizations : 

Ladies  Independence  B.  M.  A.  A. 

Juvenile  Co-operators  Fraternal  Society 

Ladies  Morality  B.  M.  A.  A. 

Harmony  B.  M.  A.  A. 

Young  Friends  of  Hope  B.  M.  A.  A. 

The  New  Ladies  of  Magnolia  B.  M.  A.  A. 

Hall  of  the  Ladies,  Friends  of  Louisiana 

Young  Men's  Provident  B.  M.  A.  A. 

Ladies  and  Young  Ladies  St.  Celena  B.  M.  A.  A. 

Artisan's  B.  A. 

Young  Men  of  St.  Michael  B.  M.  A.  A. 

Ladies  Kind  Deeds  B.  M.  A.  A. 

Ladies  Protective  B.  M.  A.  A. 

Young  Friends  of  Order  B.  M.  A.  A. 


Cra%ah  and  the  Glory  Road  -  $  o  g 

And  in  a  fashion  suitable  to  Louisiana,  many  have  French 
names,  such  as: 

Societe  de  Bienfasancc  Mutuelle 

Les  Jeumis  Amis 

Societe  Des  Francs  Amis 

New  Ladies  Dieu  Nous  Protege 

Nouvelle  Societc  Des  Amis  Sinceres 

Societe  Des  Amis  Inseparable 

Because  the  Negro  is  tremendously  impressed  by  ceremony  and 
especially  by  uniforms  of  all  kinds,  these  organizations  have 
been  extremely  successful.  Every  funeral  worth  anything  calls 
for  at  least  one  band  of  music,  street  marching,  and  uniforms. 
Solemn  dirges  are  always  rendered  on  the  way  to  the  cemetery; 
the  hottest  swing  numbers  -when  homeward  bound.  Uniforms 
usually  include  hats  with  plumes,  brass  buttons  and  medals, 
golden  epaulets.  The  ones  that  require  the  carrying  of  a  sword 
are  particularly  favored.  There  isn't  anything  that  lends  dignity 
and  importance  to  a  mourner  like  a  big  shiny  sword. 

A  typical  hundred-dollar  funeral  is  offered  by  the  Crescent 
Burial  Society.  Premiums  are  twenty-five  cents  a  week  and  the 
deceased  must  have  been  a  member  six  months  to  receive  full  ben- 
efits. These  consist  of  a  casket  —  peach-colored  for  young 
people,  gray  or  lavender  for  old  ones  —  a  harmonizing  shroud, 
two  automobiles,  a  floor  rug,  candles,  and  wakes  for  two  nights. 
The  family  must  supply  the  food,  however,  and  other  associa- 
tions the  music,  if  any. 

There  are  many  details  attached  to  this  job  of  putting  away 
the  dead  which  must  be  observed.  They  must  always  be  buried 
facing  the  east  and  the  rising  sun,  if  you  want  them  to  go  to 
Heaven,  for  if  they  are  buried  facing  the  west,  they  will  surely 
go  to  Hell;  thus  might  advantage  be  taken  of  a  relative  of  whom 
one  was  not  overfond.  And  everyone  should  be  buried  wearing 
a  new  pair  of  shoes  on  their  feet;  these  are  of  course  essential  for 
that  long  journey  ahead.  When  it  rains  on  a  corpse  it  is  a  sign 
he  regretted  dying.  If  a  person  dies  on  a  Sunday  and  is  buried  on 
a  Sunday,  he  is  certain  to  become  an  angel. 

Watch  out  if  you  sneeze  while  eating!    It's  not  from  using 


$10  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

black  pepper  too  lavishly;  it's  a  sign  of  death.  And  should  you 
dream  of  pork  meat  or  a  wedding  or  a  proposal  of  marriage, 
you're  going  to  hear  of  a  death  soon.  You  can  smile  if  a  hearse 
passes  you  on  the  street  because  that's  a  sign  of  a  happy  day 
ahead  for  you.  If  you'll  hold  the  hand  of  a  small  child  when 
passing  a  graveyard,  the  ghosts  won't  bother  you.  Some  mem- 
ber of  the  family  should  always  throw  a  small  piece  of  red  brick 
into  the  grave  or  tomb  before  it  is  closed,  as  a  last  good-bye. 

When  a  woman  dies  in  confinement  she  must  be  buried  in  white 
stockings  and  black  shoes.  The  feet  of  the  corpse  must  always 
be  borne  out  of  the  house  first  because  the  feet  always  enter  and 
leave  the  house  first;  when  laid  out  the  feet  of  the  deceased  must 
point  always  to  a  window  or  door.  One  way  of  laying  out  the 
dead  is  to  pin  geranium  or  ivy  leaves  all  over  a  white  pillow,  but 
these  must  be  removed  before  the  coffin  is  closed  and,  after  the 
funeral,  carefully  burned,  the  ashes  and  pins  thrown  into  a 
toilet.  No  one  pin  must  be  dropped,  for  it  would  be  the  worst 
sort  of  luck  for  anyone  to  pick  it  up. 

Mattie  Ford  contributed  a  homemade  way  of  embalming. 

'If  a  person  dies  and  you  don't  have  no  money  to  have  'em 
embalmed  to  keep  the  body  right  you  buy  yourself  a  nickel's 
worth  of  charcoal,  two  packs  of  King  Bee  Tobacco  and  some 
whiskey.  You  beats  the  charcoal  up  fine  as  dust  and  mixes  it 
with  the  tobacco.  When  you  wash  the  corpse  you  takes  half 
of  an  old  sheet  and  puts  the  tobacco  and  charcoal  in  that  sheet 
and  puts  it  on  the  body  like  you  does  a  diaper  on  a  baby.  Then 
you  holds  that  dead  man  up  and  pours  a  bottle  of  whiskey  down 
his  mout'.  You  can  keep  a  body  as  long  as  you  wants  if  you 
does  that.' 

'If  somebody  treats  you  bad  and  are  mean  to  you,'  says  Luella 
Johnson,  'git  yourself  some  black  candles  and  go  to  St.  Roch's 
Cemetery.  Light  one  candle  before  each  of  nine  tombs,  any 
tombs  will  do.  When  you  gits  to  the  last  one,  turn  your  back 
to  it  and  hit  it  hard  as  you  can  and  say,  "Oh,  Lawd!  Remove 
this  stumbin'  block  from  my  path. ' '  In  nine  days  that  man  gonna 
die  or  leave  you  alone. 

'  When  a  man  or  woman  is  bad  and  won't  do  no  good  and  no 
harm  comes  to  them  they  makes  a  novena  to  the  Devil  and  sells 


South  Rampart  Street  Sports 


A  Cult  Leader  Exhorts  his  Flock  to  Obedience 


< 


Vtv 


J ack-in-the-Box 


Hands  of  the  Dead  Reach  Out  for  the  Living 


Cra^ah  and  the  Glory  Road 

themself  to  him  for  seven  years.    He  sure  do  take  care  of  them, 
too.' 

By  far  the  most  elaborate  Negro  funeral  ever  held  in  New  Or- 
leans was  awarded  the  late  Major  J.  Osey,  member  of  twenty-odd 
different  lodges,  several  of  which  he  had  organized  and  many  in 
which  he  had  served  as  high  dignitary  at  one  time  or  another. 
The  death  notice  in  the  newspapers,  one  of  the  longest  on  record, 
read  as  follows : 

OSEY  —  At  his  residence,  2.311  Upperline  Street,  Tuesday, 
July  zo,  1937,  at  11:55  o'clock  p.m.,  Major  ADOLPHE  J. 
OSEY,  a  native  of  Bellalliance,  Louisiana,  and  a  resident  of 
this  city  for  many  years.  Beloved  husband  of  Henrietta  Webb 
Osey,  grandfather  of  Oscar  J.  Osey,  uncle  of  Emanuel,  Jr.,  Ed- 
gar Porter,  Eddie  and  Joseph  Howard,  Manuella  Porter  Mc- 
Cleanton,  Henrietta  Webb  Gumbs,  Ethel  Howard  McTurner, 
great-uncle  of  Nellie  Porter  Walker,  James  and  Juanita  Porter, 
brother-in-law  of  John  Webb  and  Emanuel  B.  Porter,  and  a 
host  of  other  relatives. 

Grand  Staff  Patriot,  i3th  Regiment  of  G.  U.  of  O.  of  Amer- 
ica, Louisiana  Creole  Lodge,  G.  U.  O.  of  O.  F.  1918,  Past 
Grand  Masters  Council  No.  30,  Orleans  Patriotic  and  Auxil- 
iary, No.  7,  Queen  Esther  H.  H.  of  Ruth  No.  3964,  Cyprus 
Lodge,  A.  A.  &  F.  M.  No.  43,  Capitol  Lodge  of  Elks  No.  595, 
Progressive  Friends  Ben.  Ass.,  Young  Men's  Perpetual  Help. 
Ben.  Ass.  Live  Wire  Circle  of  5th  Baptist  Church,  Star  Light 
Circle  of  Tulane  Baptist  Church,  Pastor,  officers  and  friends  of 
Trinity  M.  E.  Church  are  respectfully  invited  to  attend  the 
funeral,  which  will  take  place  from  the  late  residence,  Sunday, 
July  15,  1937,  at  11:30  o'clock  a.m. 

Religious  services  5th  Baptist  Church,  Sixth  and  South  Rob- 
ertson Streets. 

Reverend  W.  B.  McClelland  officiating. 
Interment  St.  Louis  Cemetery  No.  2.. 

The  Major  was  waked  for  five  days  and  nights,  lay  in  state  at 
his  residence  with  both  public  and  private  wakes  by  the  numer- 
ous lodges  to  which  he  belonged,  and  all  during  these  five  days, 
the  small  four  room  cottage  was  crowded  with  'brothers'  and 
'  sisters. '  The  front  door  was  heavily  draped  with  a  dark  canopy 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

of  velvet  edged  with  silver  fringe,  bearing  the  inscription  '  Lou- 
isiana Creole  Lodge,  1918,  C.  U.  of  O.' 

Laid  out  in  the  front  room,  in  a  casket  of  purple  plush,  with  a 
lining  of  heavily  shirred  white  silk,  a  bedlight  attached  to  the 
coffin's  lid  poured  down  on  the  Major's  black  face,  with  the 
mouth  fixed  in  a  wide  and  snowy  smile  that  revealed  every  tooth. 
The  toothsome  expression  —  and  the  teeth  were  real !  —  sym- 
bolized the  fact  that  he  had  gone  to  Heaven  '  with  a  contract  in 
his  hand.' 

He  was  dressed  in  the  uniform  of  the  Odd  Fellows,  jet  black 
with  shining  brass  buttons  and  epaulets  of  gold  braid  and  fringe. 
One  white-gloved  hand  held  the  purple  fez  of  the  Elks;  around 
his  waist  was  a  white  lambskin  apron  of  the  Supreme  Council  of 
the  Masons  and  on  his  breast  was  pinned  a  medal  of  the  Past 
Grand  Council  Encampment  of  the  Past  Patriarch,  signifying, 
according  to  one  of  the  mourners,  '  that  the  Major  was  in  the 
groove.'  Beside  him  rested  the  hat  of  the  Odd  Fellows,  a  black 
continental  with  a  white  and  purple  plume.  On  top  of  the 
closed  end  of  the  casket  was  a  Bible,  an  Elk's  sphere,  small  brass 
buttons  from  the  Progressive  Friends,  a  rosette  from  the  Odd 
Fellows,  and  a  small  artificial  wreath  representing  the  laurel 
wreath  of  the  Masons. 

The  procession  was  led  by  the  six-foot  three-inch,  black  and 
burly  Grand  Marshal  of  the  Odd  Fellows,  trailed  by  his  clan. 
His  every  move  was  kept  in  perfect  time  to  the  slow  but  '  stomp 
swingin'  '  music  of  the  thirteen-piece  band.  Only  the  Odd  Fel- 
lows marched  on  foot,  all  of  them  resplendent  in  their  black  and 
gold  uniforms,  with  braid  and  epaulets  and  other  gew-gaws,  hats 
with  plumes  and  either  white  or  bright  yellow  gloves.  Mem- 
bers of  other  lodges  rode  in  big  and  shiny  black  limousines. 
Many  of  the  mourners  marched,  however,  and  among  them  was 
Crazah,  swaying  and  swinging  his  dwarfish  little  tody  with  the 
rest  of  them,  his  face  wreathed  in  a  smile  of  delight  at  such  a 
grand  and  glorious  affair.  From  the  house  to  the  cemetery  was 
a  five-mile  hike,  but  he  never  faltered. 

Behind  the  dark  Odd  Fellows  came  the  Patriarchs  and  the 
Household  of  Ruth,  the  women's  auxiliaries,  the  Patriarchs  in 
white  flannel  costumes  much  like  the  men's,  the  Household  of 


Cra%ah  and  the  Glory  Road  —  3 1  $ 

Ruth  in  blue,  all  carrying  swords.  The  last  three  Odd  Fellows 
carried  a  gilded  but  rather  seedy  looking  lion,  a  lamb,  and  a  bow 
and  arrow,  the  significance  of  these  being  a  lodge  secret.  A  statue 
of  Father  Time  rode  in  the  first  limousine  behind  the  marchers. 

An  even  larger  crowd  waited  at  the  church  than  had  been  pres- 
ent at  the  house.  The  coffin  was  removed  from  the  hearse  one 
block  away  and  carried  inside  by  the  pall  bearers.  On  the  church 
steps  there  was  shouting  and  weeping,  as  most  of  the  mourners 
fought  to  get  close  enough  to  touch  the  coffin.  A  woman 
screamed,  'There  is  a  good  man  gone  from  here!'  and  promptly 
fainted.  In  less  than  a  minute  four  others  followed  suit. 

The  Fifth  Baptist  Church  was  packed.  The  crowd  filled  it  to 
the  doors.  They  did  everything  but  climb  up  the  bright  red 
beams  to  perch  on  the  bright  red  rafters  under  the  sky-blue 
ceiling. 

Before  the  pulpit,  at  the  head  of  the  coffin  and  in  full  view  of 
the  congregation,  was  placed  Father  Time,  a  statue  wearing  scar- 
let pants,  immense  gold  wings  and  a  self-satisfied  grimace  on  his 
bewhiskered  countenance;  and  carrying  an  hour  glass  and  a 
scythe.  The  entire  church  was  decora  ted  for  the  occasion.  Black 
and  white  crepe  draped  the  entrance  door  and  pulpit.  Above  the 
door  to  the  men's  room,  on  one  side,  was  a  large  picture  of  the 
Virgin  —  right  over  the  word  'MEN';  and  above  the  word 
'  WOMEN,'  on  the  other  side,  was  a  picture  of  the  Sacred  Heart. 
The  mixed  choir  wore  black  robes  and  appropriate  funereal  ex- 
pressions. At  the  entrance  one  of  the  bands  struck  up  'I  Am 
Coming  to  You.' 

The  Masons  opened  the  service  by  filing  past  the  casket  and 
each  dropping  in  a  rose,  the  last  one  tossing  in  a  crown  of  ever- 
greens. Then  the  Reverend  W.  C.  McClelland  offered  a  prayer. 
Programs,  distributed  throughout  the  church,  read  as  follows: 

i.  Devotional 

2..  Remarks  from  the  Deacons'  Board  —  Bro.  H.  Walker 

3.  Remarks  from  the  Stewardess'  Board  —  Sister  Walker 

4.  Solo  —  Miss    Irene   Williams,    Greater   Tulane   Baptist 

Church 

5.  Remarks  —  Sister  Louise  Walker 

6.  Solo  —  Brother  Joseph  Young 


314  ~  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

7.  Solo  —  Brother  O.  W.  Owens 

8.  Soto  —  Past  Grand  Exalted  Ruler 

J.  C.  Hensley  of  Order  of  Elks  No,  595 

9.  Solo  —  Past  Grand  Ruler 

Dr.  B.  Thompson  of  Order  of  Elks  No.  595 
ODD  FELLOWS 

10.  Condolence  —  Auxiliary  No.  7 

11.  Remarks  —  D.  M.  Patterson  —  His  life  as  an  Odd  Fellow 
12..   Remarks  —  Reverend  G.  C.  Amos  —  an  Odd  Fellow 

13.  Condolence  —  From  Queen  Esther  H.  H.  No.  3964 

14.  Past  Most  Noble  Governors  —  Agnes  Johnson 

1 5 .  Remarks  —  Grand  Master  of  District  Grand  Lodge  No.  zi 

1 6.  Grand  United  Order  of  Odd  Fellows  —  Honorable  William 
Kelso 

17.  Remarks  —  Endowment    Secretary    and    Treasurer    Dr. 

J.  H.  Lowery 

18.  Remarks  —  Reverend  J.   R.   Poe,  St.  James   A.   M.   E. 

Church 

19.  Remarks  —  Reverend  T.   R.   Albert,   Trinity  A.  M.  E. 

Church 
2.0.    Duet  —  Sisters  R.  Knight  and  F.  Garrison 


2.1.    Sermon  —  Reverend  W.  B.  McClelland 

Unfortunately,  the  funeral  had  been  so  late  in  starting  that  the 
program  had  to  be  considerably  shortened,  much  to  the  disap- 
pointment of  many  brothers  and  sisters,  who  expressed  them- 
selves on  the  subject  in  loud  and  far  from  dulcet  tones.  When 
anyone  spoke  too  long,  the  Reverend  McClelland  pulled  him  by 
the  coat  and  made  him  sit  down.  Some  of  the  remarks  were: 

'He  was  a  Gawd-sent  man!' 

'He  was  too  true  to  falsify!' 

'We  wants  heavy  prayin',  and  mournin'  what's  its  deepest.' 

'His  relatives  were  many,  but  his  faults  few!' 

Odd  Fellows  crossed  swords  over  the  door,  as  the  body  was 
borne  from  the  church. 

Major  Osey  was  interred  in  an  upper  vault  —  an  'oven'  —  in 
Saint  Louis  Cemetery  No.  z.  Lieutenant-Colonel  Naomi  Patterson, 
of  the  Women's  Auxiliary  of  the  Odd  Fellows,  read  a  burial  dia- 


Crafah  and  the  Glory  Road  —  3  j / 

Jogue,  particularly  praising  the  late  Major's  tongue,  cheeks, 
eyes  and  nose,  and  ending  this  by  placing  a  bouquet  of  evergreens 
within  the  vault,  just  as  taps  were  blown  on  a  bugle  by  her 
daughter,  Mrs.  James  LaFourche.  Following  that  Mrs.  Patter- 
son rendered  a  solo,  'The  Will  of  God  Is  Accomplished,'  while 
mourners  paid  their  last  respects  by  throwing  handfuls  of  ashes 
into  the  tomb.  Just  as  the  coffin  slid  into  the  vault,  rain  came, 
a  hard  shower,  which  everybody  considered  an  unfortunate 
omen  for  Major  Osey  on  his  long  journey  up  the  glory  road. 

But,  nevertheless,  as  the  mourners  left  the  cemetery  gates  be- 
hind, the  entire  aspect  of  the  procession  changed.  The  bands 
changed  their  tune  and  the  marchers  began  trucking,  and  all  the 
way  back  to  Major  Osey's  house  gaiety  was  complete  and 
contagious. 

So  ended  one  of  the  most  colorful  funerals  Negro  New  Orleans 
has  ever  seen.  Even  that  funeral  expert,  that  Crazah,  that  Louie 
Williams,  had  never  seen  its  like  before.  His  eyes  bulged  and  his 
mouth  hung  agape  at  the  splendor  and  magnificence  of  the  whole 
affair.  He  even  forgot  to  eat  a  toasted  ham  sandwich,  which  he 
carried,  gripped  tightly  in  one  fist,  all  day  long. 


Chapter  16 


Cemeteries 


A  CREOLE  LADY  KNOWN  AS  XANTE  ADELINE  WAS 
famous  in  old  New  Orleans  because  of  an  inordinate  fondness  for 
funerals.  So  copious  were  the  tears  she  shed  on  these  occasions 
that  she  earned  the  name  of  Saule  Pleurer  —  Weeping  Willow. 
In  some  rural  sections  of  Louisiana  it  is  still  customary  for  every- 
one to  attend  any  and  all  funerals  within  a  radius  of  ten  miles. 
In  other  sections  announcements  like  the  following,  which  ap- 
peared in  the  Coif  ax  Chronicle  May  14,  1935,  are  obeyed  with  com- 
plete seriousness: 

There  will  be  a  working  of  the  Fairfield  graveyard  on  Satur- 
day, June  8th.  Everybody  invited  to  come  and  bring  tools  to 
work  with  and  a  basket  of  dinner. 

The  whole  community  turns  out,  to  cut  grass  and  weed,  to 
clean  and  sweep  graves  and  walks.  In  some  cases  great  pains  are 
taken  to  keep  the  grave  free  of  grass;  graves  are  sometimes  even 
covered  with  sand.  Other  people  prefer  the  grass  and  fre- 
quently plant  rosebushes  and  other  flowers. 

There  is  nothing  macabre  about  the  day.  Spirits  are  as  high  as 
if  the  workers  were  on  a  picnic;  laughter  echoes  among  the 


Cemeteries 

tombs.  Children  play  along  the  shaded  walks  and  chase  each 
other  over  graves.  Food  is  consumed  with  usual  Louisiana  gusto 
while  the  eaters  sit  on  copings  and  tomb  steps.  And  before  de- 
parting homeward  mutual  compliments  and  other  remarks  gar- 
nish the  day's  achievements : 

'  Your  place  sure  looks  nice,  Miz  Joe.  If  Mr.  Joe  come  out  of 
his  coffin  he  sure  would  be  proud.' 

'  Grandma  don't  get  so  many  flowers  for  the  children  she's  got, 
but  she  don't  do  bad.' 

Children  are  admonished: 

'Honey,  don't  you  touch  them  flowers!' 

'  Goddammit,  I'm  gonna  whip  you  good.  Ain't  you  ashamed?' 

'Charlie,  look  at  the  seat  of  your  pants.    My  God!' 

As  the  homes  of  the  living  are  regularly  cleaned  and  deco- 
rated, so  are  the  homes  of  the  dead.  And  in  Louisiana  grave- 
yards the  decorating  is  unrestrained.  Ground  plots  are  covered 
with  vari-colored  shells  or  bright  bits  of  broken  glass.  Oyster 
shells  or  pop  bottles,  the  latter  shoved  neck-downward  into  the 
earth,  are  popular  as  finishing  effects  to  border  graves  and  walks, 
ind  are  thought  to  be  both  neat  and  fancy  —  in  an  appropriate 
sort  of  way.  Conch  shells,  painted  pastel  shades,  perhaps  gilded, 
silvered,  even  painted  a  doleful  black,  add  a  not  ineffective 
touch,  as  do  china  dogs,  pig  banks,  hand-colored  serving  trays, 
pin  trays,  and  vases  of  every  conceivable  kind,  size,  shape  and 
color. 

Artificial  flowers  are  common,  are  often  made  at  home  —  of 
paper,  wax,  silk,  beads  or  silver  foil.  'Fish  bouquets,'  flowers 
and  wreaths  made  of  garfish  scales  used  to  be  favorites,  but  are 
seldom  seen  now.  In  sections  where  Catholicism  is  widespread 
graves  and  tombs  are  profusely  adorned  with  holy  statues,  holy 
pictures,  rosaries  draped  over  stone  or  iron  crosses,  and  crucifixes, 
sometimes  enclosed  in  glass  cases  to  protect  them  from  the 
elements. 

Each  Louisiana  cemetery  has  its  individualities,  its  interesting 
graves  and  tombs.  At  Monroe,  in  the  Old  City  Cemetery,  is  the 
tomb  of  Sidney  W.  Saunders,  which  is  surmounted  by  a  life-sized 
statue  of  a  man  holding  a  scroll  in  one  hand,  which,  when 
closely  examined,  proves  to  be  a  stone  replica  of  a  marriage  li- 
cense, reading: 


5 1 8  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

This  is  to  certify  that  Sidney  W.  Saunders  and  Anne  Livingston 
of  Monroe,  in  the  State  of  Louisiana,  were  by  me  joined  to- 
gether in  holy  matrimony,  March  15,  1875. 
Witnesses : 

John  W.  Rice  John  W.  Young 

Frank  Gregory  Justice  of  the  Peace 

City  of  St.  Louis 

The  local  explanation  is  that  there  had  been  some  doubt  in  the 
minds  of  the  residents  of  Monroe  as  to  the  legality  of  the  Saun- 
derses  marriage,  and  that  Mrs.  Saunders  had  the  monument 
erected  as  a  rebuke  to  the  gossips.  It  is  said  that  she  also  had  her 
husband's  desk  and  chair  placed  within  the  large  tomb,  and  there 
she  would  sit  for  hours,  giving  unrestrained  vent  to  her  grief. 

Berthoud  Cemetery,  some  twenty  miles  from  New  Orleans,  is 
the  source  of  the  most  fantastic  legend  in  the  entire  State.  Here, 
it  is  said,  the  remains  of  Jean  Lafitte,  John  Paul  Jones  and  Na- 
poleon Bonaparte  lie  in  three  adjoining  graves.  Lafitte  is  sup- 
posed to  have  rescued  Bonaparte  from  St.  Helena,  leaving  a 
double  in  his  place,  and  the  Emperor  to  have  died  while  being 
carried  to  Louisiana;  then  he  was  buried  here  beside  the  Bayou 
Barataria.  John  Paul  Jones,  according  to  the  legend,  joined  the 
Lafitte  band,  was  killed  in  action,  and  buried  in  another  of  the 
graves.  Then,  when  Lafitte  died,  his  pirates  buried  him  in  a 
grave  between  the  other  two.  The  fact  that  Jones  died  in  1792., 
when  Lafitte  was  about  twelve  years  old,  doesn't  seem  to  bother 
anyone . 

There  are  no  headstones,  no  inscriptions.  The  owner  of  the 
graveyard,  Madame  Toinette  Perrin,  says  simply:  'I  tell  you  like 
my  mamma  and  my  gran  mere  tell  me.  Lafitte  is  buried  dere. 
Other  mans?  Napoleon?  Mais,  out!  Zat  is  his  name.  Me,  I'm 
old,  and  don't  remember  like  I  used  to,  but  I  know  dis:  every 
year  some  woman  comes  to  zat  grave  on  All  Saints'  Day,  and 
light  candle  and  pray.  She  say  she  come  from  far  away  and  he 
is  her  kin.  And  she  give  me  plenty  money  to  keep  his  grave  nice. 
Where  she  live?  I  don't  remember,  me.  But  she  come  from  far 
off  place  once  every  year,  on  All  Saints'  Day.  Zat  is  all  I  know, 
me.'  On  certain  occasions  the  trio  of  ghosts  appear.  (See 
'Ghosts,'  pages  2.71-300.) 


Cemeteries  —  319 

On  the  grave  of  Adelate  Trosclairee,  who  departed  this  world 
March  i,  1909,  there  is  a  wreath  of  pink  and  white  paper  flowers 
tied  with  purple  ribbon,  a  vase,  a  vinegar  cruet,  a  whiskey  jigger 
turned  upside  down,  an  old-fashioned  cocktail  glass  and  a 
striped  water  glass,  turned  down.  On  another  grave,  a  half- 
filled  bottle  of  medicine  (filled  at  the  Gretna  Pharmacy,  Decem- 
ber 2.1,  1938),  a  deep  saucer  filled  with  oil,  a  purse  mirror  and  a 
tiny  white  elephant  served  as  adornments. 

Whether  Napoleon  rests  on  Bayou  Barataria  is,  of  course, 
doubtful,  but  there  is  no  doubt  as  to  the  numbers  of  his  admirers 
in  Louisiana.  When  he  died,  the  citizens  of  New  Orleans  held  a 
funeral  for  him.  The  Louisiana  Gazette  of  December  2.0,  182.1, 
described  the  services. 

SERVICE  FOR  NAPOLEON  BONAPARTE 
The  adherents  of  the  late  Napoleon  Bonaparte  who  reside 
in  this  city,  having  caused  a  splendid  bier  or  catafalco  to  be 
erected  in  the  Catholic  Church,  which  was  hung  in  black  for 
the  occasion,  they  yesterday  walked  there  in  procession,  and  a 
funeral  service  was  performed  by  the  priests.  Mr.  Canouge  de- 
livered an  oration  to  the  crowd  who  attended  the  church;  and 
the  singers  of  the  French  Company  of  players  sang  several 
pieces  during  the  celebration  of  Grand  Mass. 

A  collection  was  also  made  in  the  church,  which  produced  a 
very  handsome  sum  for  the  poor. 

There  was  once  in  Washington  Parish,  as  there  is  in  most 
places,  a  man  named  McGee.  This  one  kept  a  stable,  and  is  said 
to  have  been  cruel  to  his  horses.  When  anyone  remonstrated 
with  him,  he  would  laugh  and  say,  'If  I'm  as  bad  as  that,  I  guess 
I'll  be  a  mule  when  I  die.'  McGee  donated  a  cemetery  plot  to 
the  poor  of  his  parish  and  when  he  passed  on  was  buried  there, 
a  handsome  headstone  marking  his  grave.  Soon  afterward  the 
outline  of  a  mule's  head  appeared  on  three  sides  of  this  stone 
and,  despite  washing,  scraping,  even  a  coat  of  paint,  may  still 
be  clearly  seen. 

Graveland  Cemetery,  in  Orange  Grove,  has  a  pair  of  unusual 
tombs,  in  each  of  which  is  buried  a  young  boy.  Over  each  one 
is  a  monument  that  is  a  replica  of  a  straw  hat,  a  pair  of  shoes  and 


$20  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

a  pair  of  stockings.  In  a  cemetery  in  Baton  Rouge  a  bereaved 
father  built  a  doll  house  on  top  of  the  tomb  of  his  small  daughter. 

McDonoghville  Cemetery,  at  Gretna,  was  once  a  part  of  the 
plantation  of  John  McDonogh,  famous  Louisiana  philanthro- 
pist. The  body  of  McDonogh  rested  here  for  ten  years,  -was  then 
moved  to  Baltimore,  his  place  of  birth.  This  is  probably  the 
most  democratic  cemetery  in  the  South,  for  Protestant  and 
Catholic  lie  side  by  side,  instead  of  being  separated  by  fences  as 
is  customary  in  the  State;  and  scattered  among  the  graves  of 
'respectable'  citizens  are  those  of  more  adventurous  spirits,  in- 
cluding a  few  hanged  murderers.  The  sexton  explained : '  They  is 
got  all  kinds  buried  here,  people  killed,  people  murdered;  any- 
body can  come  here.  Everybody  is  welcome  to  McDonoghville 
Cemetery!'  The  sole  exception  to  this  is  the  division  of  Whites 
and  Negroes  by  a  neat  picket  fence. 

Negroes  of  the  section  idolized  McDonogh,  and  two  of  them, 
Fanny  Thornton  and  her  son  Edward,  took  it  upon  themselves 
lovingly  to  tend  his  burial  place,  even  after  the  remains  had  been 
removed.  When  Fanny  died  in  1887,  Edward  had  her  laid  to 
rest  in  the  abandoned  tomb,  and  not  until  1890,  when  adminis- 
trators of  the  estate  took  steps  to  build  a  monument  over  the 
tomb,  did  they  find  what  had  once  been  Fanny.  These  remains 
were  promptly  removed  to  the  other  side  of  the  picket  fence. 

At  Grace  Church  Cemetery  in  St.  Francisville  is  the  grave  of  a 
United  States  naval  officer  whose  death  '  stopped  a  war'  so  that 
he  could  be  buried.  The  New  Orleans  Times-Picayune  of  October 
i4,  1937,  recounted  the  story  in  detail.  In  1863,  after  New  Or- 
leans had  fallen  to  Farragut's  fleet  and  Butler's  army,  Federal 
gunboats,  among  them  the  U.S.S.  Albatross,  ranged  up  and  down 
the  Mississippi  River,  the  latter  under  the  temporary  command 
of  Lieutenant  Commander  J.  E.  Hart.  Captain  Hart  became 
stricken  with  fever  and,  while  delirious  in  his  cabin,  shot  him- 
self. All  this  occurred  while  St.  Francisville  was  being  shelled, 
the  town  reported  to  be  a  'perfect  hotbed  of  secession,'  and  the 
'  constant  resort  of  the  Confederates  . . .  where  they  were  contin- 
uously urged  on  to  commit  acts  of  plunder  and  abuse . . . , '  ac- 
cording to  Navy  Department  files  in  Washington. 

While  the  battle  raged  a  boat  was  put  out  from  the  Albatross,  a 


Cemeteries  -521 

white  flag  of  truce  at  its  bow,  and  bearing  the  body  of  Hart. 
Upon  landing,  the  officer  in  charge  requested  that  they  be  al- 
lowed to  bury  Hart  with  Masonic  honors,  as  he  had  requested 
before  he  died,  and  Captain  W.  W.  Leake,  himself  a  Mason, 
agreed  that  the  fighting  should  be  suspended  while  this  ritual 
was  performed.  The  battle  stopped  and  a  strange  funeral  cortege 
of  Federals  and  Confederates  was  organized  and  proceeded  to  the 
cemetery.  Then,  after  it  was  over,  the  boat  was  allowed  to  re- 
turn to  the  Albatross  and  the  battle  was  resumed.  Even  now,  it  is 
said,  relatives  and  descendants  of  the  Confederate  officer,  Cap- 
tain Leake,  keep  the  grave  of  the  Yankee  officer  in  perfect  order. 

While  in  some  parts  of  Louisiana  the  ground  is  solid  enough  to 
permit  the  digging  of  graves,  in  others,  especially  around  New 
Orleans,  water  is  so  close  to  the  surface  that  early  French  set- 
tlers referred  to  it  as  flottant' —  floating  land.  Until  very  re- 
cently, when  modern  drainage  and  engineering  skill  minimized 
this  condition,  practically  all  interments  were  in  tombs  or  vaults 
of  some  sort,  many  being  of  magnificent  proportions  and  designs, 
belonging  to  wealthy  and  prominent  families.  For  the  poor, 
crypts  were  erected,  vaults  built  tier  upon  tier,  usually  into  the 
cemetery  wall,  looking  not  unlike  ovens  in  some  gigantic  bak- 
ery, and  therefore  becoming  known  locally  as  'ovens.' 

Strangers  are  always  amazed  —  or  amused  —  at  these  queer 
vaults.  The  New  Orleans  Weekly  Delta  of  July  19,  1847,  carried  an 
article  containing  a  portion  of  a  letter  written  home  by  an 
English  tourist,  who  said: 

Frequently  while  in  Louisiana  I  heard  of  men  gouging  out 
eyes  and  biting  off  ears  and  noses.  I  do  know  that  they  bake 
their  dead  in  ovens  as  ive  do  our  brown  Johns  for  breakfast! 

Ovens  may  be  bought  or  they  may  be  rented.  If  the  latter,  it  is 
usually  for  a  year  and  a  day,  and  if  no  further  payment  is  forth- 
coming, the  remains  are  removed  and  burned.  A  single  oven 
may  be  used  again  and  again,  for  most  are  provided  with  a  de- 
pository at  the  bottom  where  the  bones  may  be  pushed  to  make 
way  for  the  new  coffin.  The  remnants  of  old  caskets  are  burned. 

One  New  Orleans  cemetery  offers  'three-day  burials,'  which 
means  you  can  rent  the  vault  for  three  days,  have  a  nice  funeral 


5  2  z  -  *  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

to  impress  your  friends,  and  see  the  coffin  placed  in  an  oven. 
After  three  days  all  is  removed. 

One  of  the  oldest  and  most  fascinating  cemeteries  in  the  State 
is  Saint  Louis  Number  i  in  New  Orleans.  Only  one  block  square, 
enclosed  by  high  brick  walls,  partially  composed  of  ovens,  if 
Gabriel  blew  that  horn  tomorrow  many  of  the  most  famous 
characters  of  New  Orleans's  history  would  step  out  of  the  white- 
washed brick,  granite  and  marble  tombs  and  vaults. 

Entering  the  gate  on  Basin  Street,  the  first  sight  is  a  pyramidal 
tomb  bearing  the  notice  'St.  Louis  Cemetery  No.  i  —  172.0.' 
But  that  date  does  not  seem  to  mean  what  it  suggests.  The  old- 
est inscription  to  be  found  is  dated  1800,  though  records  at  the 
Louisiana  State  Museum  Library  list  a  burial  as  early  as  'Jeanne 
Durand,  slave  of  Andre ,  aged  33  years,  died  May  17,  1772..' 

Little  is  known  of  burial  in  New  Orleans  during  colonial  days, 
as  interments  were  beneath  the  earth  and  no  slabs  or  monuments 
remain.  Old  documents  reveal  that  during  an  auction  sale  of  lots 
in  Rampart  Street,  remains  of  some  dead  were  removed  from  that 
area  and  transferred  to  the  square  now  bounded  by  Bienville, 
Chartres,  Conti  and  Royal  Streets,  and  that  in  1743  tne  cemetery 
was  removed  to  a  site  opposite  the  Charity  Hospital  of  that  day, 
in  a  square  bounded  by  Toulouse,  St.  Peter,  Burgundy  and  Ram- 
part Streets.  In  1788  it  was  transferred  once  more,  this  time 
beyond  the  ramparts  of  the  old  city  and  one  block  south.  Doctor 
Erasmus  Fenner  in  his  Southern  Medical  Reports,  published  in  1850, 
stated,  '  In  the  earliest  days  of  the  city  the  cemetery  was  situated 
in  rear  of  the  Cathedral,  near  the  Place  d'Armes.' 

When  Basin  Street  was  cut  through,  the  cemetery,  now  outside 
the  original  city,  lost  all  the  ground  from  Basin  to  Rampart 
Street.  Bones  dug  up  in  that  vicinity  as  late  as  1900  seem  to  sup- 
port this  fact,  and  the  belief  that  the  present  day  Saint  Louis 
Number  i  is  actually  only  a  portion  of  the  old  burying  ground. 
Coffins  and  bones  discovered  under  Canal  Street  in  1903  were  be- 
lieved to  be  the  remains  of  early  French  and  Spanish  colonists. 

Saint  Louis  Number  i  is,  as  is  not  unusual  in  Louisiana, 
divided  into  Catholic  and  Protestant  sections  by  a  fence,  though 
the  Catholic  portion  is  many  times  larger  than  the  small  space 
filled  with  deceased  Protestants.  In  the  latter  section  the  most 


Cemeteries 

pretentious  tomb  is  inscribed  to  the  memory  of  Eliza  W.  Clai- 
borne,  '  wife  of  W.  C.  C.  Claiborne,  Governor-General  of  Lou- 
isiana, who  died  at  New  Orleans  on  the  xyth  of  September,  1804, 
in  the  twenty-first  year  of  her  life,'  and  of  Cornelia  Tennessee 
Claiborne,  her  only  child,  who  died  on  the  same  day,  aged  three 
years.  Also  buried  here  is  Micajah  Green  Lewis,  'brother  of 
Eliza  W.  Claiborne,  who  fell  in  a  duel  Feb.  14,  1805,  in  the 
twenty-fifth  year  of  his  age.'  It  is  said  that  Lewis,  Claiborne 's 
secretary,  died  in  defense  of  the  Governor's  honor.  Just  beyond 
the  fence,  in  the  Catholic  section,  stands  another  Claiborne 
tomb,  this  one  inscribed,  '  In  memory  of  Clarice  Duralde  Clai- 
borne, youngest  daughter  of  Martin  Duralde  of  Attakapas,  and 
wife  of  Wm.  C.  C.  Claiborne,  Governor  of  the  Territory  of  Or- 
leans, who  died  at  New  Orleans  on  the  X9th  of  November,  1809, 
in  the  twenty-first  year  of  her  age.'  On  both  the  tombs  of  Clai- 
borne's  young  wives,  both  dying  at  twenty-one,  is  the  same  epi- 
taph: 'For  the  virtuous  there  is  a  happier  and  better  world.' 
Claiborne  was  buried  in  this  second  tomb,  but  was  later  moved 
to  Metairie  Cemetery. 

Only  a  few  steps  from  the  Basin  Street  entrance  is  the  '  Widow 
Paris'  tomb,  a  three-tiered,  whitewashed  structure  with  queer 
green  flowerpots  extending  on  both  sides  of  each  tier.  On  one 
slab  may  be  read: 

FAMILLE  WE.  PARIS 
nee  Laveau 

Ci-Git 
MARIE  PHILOMEN  GLAPION 

decedee  le  n  Juin  1897 

agee  de  soixante-deux  ans 

Elle  fut  bonne  mere,  bonne  amie  et 

regrettee  par  tous  ceux  qui  1'ont  connue 

Passants  priez  pour  elle 

Here  lie  the  remains  of  the  Widow  Paris,  the  'first'  Marie 
Laveau,  mother  of  the  '  second'  voodoo  queen  bearing  the  same 
name,  though  the  epitaph  above  is  probably  that  of  another  of 
the  Widow  Paris 's  daughters. 

Other  interesting  tombs  include  the  curious  low  brick  vault  of 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Etienne  de  Bore,  first  mayor  of  New  Orleans,  and  his  grandson, 
Charles  Gayarre,  famed  historian,  and  of  Paul  Morphy,  the  chess 
king.  The  tombs  of  Francois  Xavier  Martin,  Claude  Treme, 
Alexander  Milne  and  Oscar  Dunn  —  the  mulatto  lieutenant- 
governor  under  Henry  Clay  Warmouth  —  may  also  be  found 
here,  as  well  as  those  of  members  of  the  Marigny,  Fortier  and 
many  other  prominent  New  Orleans  families  of  the  Creole  era. 
Such  epitaphs  as  ' Morf  sur  le  champ  dhonneur^  'Victims  de  son 
honneur, '  and  '  Pour  Carder  intact  le  nom  de  jamille'  mark  the  burying 
places  of  hot-headed  and  hot-blooded  young  Creoles  who  died 
for  their  'honor'  or  for  their  family  name. 

Saint  Louis  Number  i  is  a  close-packed  city  of  the  dead,  with 
few  trees  or  shrubs;  there  is  even  little  grass  to  be  found  in  the 
Catholic  section.  Tombs  stand  so  close  together  that  some- 
times it  is  necessary  to  squeeze  between  them  in  order  to  get  to 
certain  ones,  and  instead  of  being  laid  out  in  regular  squares  the 
place  is  a  haphazard  maze  without  plan  or  design.  Almost  all 
the  tombs  are  white,  either  of  stone  or  whitewashed  bricks,  and 
the  effect,  especially  under  a  bright  sun,  is  dazzling.  Many  of 
the  bottom  ovens  are  sunk  into  the  earth,  showing  only  an  inch 
or  two,  with  the  inscriptions  entirely  or  partially  vanished  from 
view;  there  is  a  possibility  that  in  some  places  an  entire  'story' 
may  have  been  swallowed  by  the  earth.  Above,  along  the  tops 
of  the  tombs,  is  cross  after  cross,  sometimes  of  stone,  often  of 
iron,  punctuated  here  and  there  by  an  occasional  angel  or  the  fig- 
ure of  a  lady  drooping  with  grief. 

Tragedy  of  Shakespearean  proportions  once  occurred  in  Saint 
Louis  Number  i,  when  a  man  entombed  himself  with  the  remains 
of  his  daughter.  For  a  long  period  this  father,  suffering  under 
pathological  grief,  would  visit  the  tomb  of  his  only  daughter 
and  unscrew  the  slab.  Then  he  would  gaze  for  hours  at  the 
crumbling  casket.  One  day  he  entered  the  cemetery,  crawled 
inside  the  tomb,  fastened  the  slab  as  best  he  could  from  the 
inside,  and  swallowed  a  vial  of  laudanum.  Late  that  evening  his 
wife,  searching  for  him,  and  knowing  of  his  habit  of  spending 
hours  in  the  cemetery,  went  there,  noticed  the  slab  not  as  usual, 
and  found  the  body,  already  in  its  grave. 

Among  the  larger  tombs  are  the  Mausoleum  of  the  Orleans 


Cemeteries 

Battalion  Artillery  and  the  Mausoleo  de  la  Campania  de  Volun- 
taries, the  latter  bearing  an  1848  date.  The  tomb  of  the  Italian 
Mutual  Benefit  Society,  a  handsome  structure,  has  been  called 
the  '  Hex  Tomb,'  because  of  the  fact  that  those  who  planned  and 
built  it  were  the  first  to  be  buried  therein.  I.  T.  Barelli  conceived 
the  idea  of  the  mausoleum  and  brought  Piero  Gualdi,  a  noted 
sculptor  of  the  period,  from  Italy  for  the  express  purpose  of  de- 
signing the  tomb.  Gualdi  was  the  first  man  to  be  buried  there. 
Barelli  was  the  second. 

Myra  Clark  Gaines  is  buried  in  the  Catholic  section  of  Saint 
Louis  Number  i,  and  Daniel  Clark,  American  Consul  to  Louisi- 
ana during  the  Spanish  possession,  who  she  claimed  was  her 
father  in  the  famous  lawsuit. 

The  Protestant  portion  is  in  bad  order;  grass  -and  weeds  grow 
high.  Many  burial  places  have  completely  vanished,  practically 
all  the  headstones  lie  flat,  most  are  broken.  One  of  the  very  few 
tombs  displays  what  is  apparently  a  discrepancy  in  dates,  stating: 

Sacred 
to  the  memory  of 

Miss  Margaret  H. 

daughter  of 
Mr.  Robert  Layton 

Born  May  15,  182.1 
Died  November  14,  1812. 

Not  overly  scrupulous  guides  sometimes  point  out  this  tomb 
and  unless  carefully  examined  those  appear  to  be  the  actual  dates. 
But  on  close  inspection  the  '  1811*  proves  to  be  actually  '  1842.,'  a 
portion  of  the  4  having  become  almost  indistinguishable. 

Many  of  the  names  on  the  flat,  broken  headstones  are  of  heroes 
of  the  War  of  i  Six;  others  are  of  yellow-fever  victims  of  the  epi- 
demic of  1817-18.  One  reads: 

Sacred  to  the  memory  of  William  P.  Cauly,  midshipman  of  the 
U.S.  Navy,  born  Norfolk,  Va.,  Aug.  30,  1796,  who  fell  in  the 
unequal  contest  between  the  U.S.  gunboat  squadron  and  the 
British  flotilla  on  Lake  Borgne,  near  New  Orleans,  Dec.  14, 
1811. 


126-  GumBo  Ya-Ya 

Another: 

Erected  to  the  memory  of  Oliver  Parmlee, 

a  native  of  New  Orleans,  who  was  killed 

in  the  defense  of  the  city  of  New  Orleans 

in  the  battle  with  the  British  army  Dec.  2.3,  1814. 

The  epitaph  of  a  young  officer  who  died  of  the  fever  reads 
(here  and  there  a  word  cannot  be  deciphered): 

By  his  only  remaining  brother,  William,  of 
the  United  States  Navy,  this  stone  is  placed, 
sacred  to  the  memory  of  Capt.  Robert  Sinclair, 
who  in  the  morning  of  his  days  and  in  the 
bloom  of  youth  fell  a  victim  to  yellow  fever 
at  New  Orleans,  Aug.  2.4,  1818. 

Lamented  youth,  beneath  this  sculptured  stone, 
The  mortal ...  of  his  fled  spirit  lies, 
To  wait  the  call  to  see  a  happier  home, 
Joined  to  its  shade  of  glory  in  the  skies. 

The  high-rolling  waves  and  the  loud-rolling 
tempest  I  have  left  to  the  living,  for  here 
I  am  anchored  in  peace,  awaiting  the  return 
of  the  ...  eat  Tide  of  Life. 

Most  of  the  names  in  this  section  are  decidedly  Anglo-Saxon, 
in  sharp  contrast  to  the  Creole  ones  in  the  Catholic  portion, 
many  of  the  young  soldiers  and  fever  victims  having  journeyed 
to  New  Orleans  from  New  England.  It  is  said  today  that  many 
New  Englanders  visit  New  Orleans  in  attempts  to  trace  members 
of  the  family  tree  of  whose  fate  they  have  no  records. 

Saint  Louis  Number  2.,  not  so  old  and  not  quite  so  crowded,  as 
it  covers  three  city  squares,  possesses  much  the  same  atmosphere 
as  Number  i ,  and  there  are  many  of  the  same  queer  things  to  be 
seen .  Here  the  ovens  lining  many  of  the  walls  are  frequently  in 
a  dilapidated  state,  and  the  sexton  claims  have  sunk  two  or  three 
deep  beneath  the  surface,  though  this  is  doubtful.  A  sign  on  the 
cemetery  office  gives  information  not  only  for  this  graveyard  but 
for  Number  i  and  Number  3  as  well.  Badly  printed  and  with  the 
word  'funeral'  misspelled,  it  reads: 


Cemeteries 

St.  Louis  Cemeteries 

No.  i,  2.,  and  3 
Furnerals  And  Removals 

Babies  up  to  one  year  $5.00 

Children  up  to  five  years  £.00 

Adults  8.00 

Overtime  after  5  P.M.  per  hour  i.oo 

F.  X.  Lefebore,  Pastor 

Some  of  the  ovens  are  adorned  with  small  balconies  of  wrought 
iron,  equipped  with  gates  on  hinges,  sometimes  with  small  iron 
shelters  above,  which  look  as  though  they  might  be  waiting  for 
ghostly  Romeos  and  Juliets.  Many  slabs  are  broken  or  have  van- 
ished; around  the  office,  oven  slabs,  still  bearing  names,  dates  and 
epitaphs,  have  been  used  to  form  a  walk  to  the  tool  shed,  to  the 
men's  rest  room,  to  the  office  entrance. 

Many  ovens  are  empty  and  ferns  and  grass  grow  within. 
Others  are  choked  with  giant  spiderwebs.  On  top  of  all  grass 
grows  and,  in  the  spring,  very  pretty  buttercups  and  other  wild 
flowers.  Some  ovens  have  wooden  'balconies'  instead  of  iron 
ones.  Several  have  glass  cases  holding  statues  of  the  Virgin  and 
Saint  Joseph,  as  well  as  fresh  or  artificial  flowers.  Many  have  a 
crucifix  before  them,  usually  set  in  a  stone  block  in  which  a  single 
word  such  as  'Baby'  or  'Mama'  or  'Annie'  is  chiseled. 

Tombs  are  embellished  with  iron  wreaths  —  one  has  an  iron 
'crown  of  thorns'  —  lead  lambs,  crosses,  crucifixes,  conch  shells 
-  gilded,  silvered  or  painted  —  and  stone  images.  One  has  a 
pair  of  beer  glasses  cemented  to  it,  evidently  to  be  used  as  flower 
receptables.  Another  has  a  flower-holder  which  is  a  long  tin, 
marked  'Roth's  Spiced  Meats.' 

On  many  tombs  are  small  bas-reliefs  depicting  graves  with 
willow  trees  drooping  over  them,  angels  flying  above  head- 
stones, lonely  graves  on  hilltops,  backed  by  the  setting  sun, 
angels  blowing  trumpets,  widows  and  children  weeping  beside  a 
grave,  and  sheep  'going  home.' 

In  the  rear  of  Saint  Louis  Number  2.  is  the  '  Wishing  Vault,'  an 
oven  distinguished  from  the  others  by  literally  hundreds  of  red 


328-  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

cross  marks  made  with  brick,  a  small  piece  of  which  is  al\vays 
resting  on  the  shelf  before  the  vault.  Of  course  it  is  said  that 
Beautiful  Young  Ladies  steal  into  the  cemetery,  make  a  wish  and 
add  their  cross  mark  to  the  collection,  dropping  money  through 
a  crack  in  the  slab.  But  at  present  there  is  no  crack  in  the  slab. 
Many  Negroes  believe  that  the  'second'  Marie  Laveau  is  buried 
here,  though  others  deny  this,  saying  she  is  buried  in  the 
'  Widow  Paris'  tomb  in  Saint  Louis  Number  i,  or  in  Saint  Louis 
Number  3,  in  Saint  Vincent  de  Paul  Cemetery,  in  St.  Roch's 
Cemetery,  in  Girod  Street  Cemetery,  etc.,  etc.  Practically  every 
New  Orleans  graveyard  except  the  Hebrew's  Rest  has  claimed 
her.  From  other  sources  comes  the  information  that  the  '  Wish- 
ing Vault'  holds  the  remains  of  Marie  Contesse,  a  voodoo  priest- 
ess of  an  earlier  date  than  the  Laveaus.  However,  at  least  one 
other  'authority,'  an  employee -in  the  cemetery,  stated:  'Thar 
oven  don't  contain  nothing  but  some  old  bones.  Nobody  knows 
who  they  belonged  to;  maybe  they  was  yellow-fever  victims. 
I  don't  know  how  all  this  "Wishing  Vault  "  thing  started.  It's 
true,  though,  that  people  come  here  and  make  wishes.  I  seen  lots 
of  'em.  Some  of  'em  white,  some  of  'em  colored.' 

As  in  Saint  Louis  Number  i  there  are  many  handsome  tombs, 
some  being  encircled  with  iron  fences  and  having  iron  benches  in 
front.  One  particularly  fine  tomb  is  that  of  Amable  Charbonnet. 
'Born  December  10,  1790  —  Died  November  4,  1832..'  It  is  an 
exquisite  example  of  marblework,  there  being  a  floral  design, 
delicately  chiseled,  a  child's  head  at  each  corner,  and  a  Masonic 
emblem  at  the  top  front  center,  all  hand  carved.  The  craftsman's 
signature  is  chiseled  into  the  base: 

DUVEY  MARBRIER 

RUE  ST.  ANDRE  POPINCOURT  NO.  i 

PARIS 

Though  imported  from  Paris  more  than  a  century  ago,  the 
tomb  is  nearly  as  perfect  as  the  day  it  was  built,  while  others 
around  it,  erected  much  later,  are  'already  crumbling. 

The  tomb  of  Dominique  You,  Lafitte's  lieutenant,  is  in  Saint 
Louis  Number  2.,  and  is  a  low  structure  bearing  a  Masonic  em- 
blem and  the  epitaph: 


Cemeteries  — 329 

Intrepide  guerrier  sur  la  terre  et 

sur  Vonde 
II  sut  dans  cent  combats  signaler 

sa  valeur 
Et  ce  noveau  Bavara  sans  reproche 

et  sans  peur 
Aurait  pu  sans  trembler  voir  s'ecrouler 

le  monde. 

Saint  Louis  Number  2.  was  built  in  182.2.,  and  Saint  Louis  Num- 
ber 3,  last  of  the  trio  of  New  Orleans  graveyards  bearing  that 
name,  was  established  about  1833.  This  one  is  similar  to  the 
others,  though  it  covers  more  ground  and  contains  more  graves 
and  more  trees  and  shrubbery.  Saint  Louis  Number  3  was  built 
•  on  the  site  of  what  was  once  known  as  Lepers'  Land,  because 
Galvez  (1777-1785)  banished  the  city's  lepers  to  that  neighbor- 
hood and  his  successor,  Governor  Miro,  built  a  house  for  them 
there.  At  first  Saint  Louis  Number  3  was  known  as  the  Bayou 
Cemetery. 

Senor  Pepe  Lulla  sleeps  in  his  own  Saint  Vincent  de  Paul  Cem- 
etery, though  many  wonder  how  peaceful  is  his  slumber.  When 
it  was  known  as  the  Louisa  Street  Cemetery,  Pepe  Lulla  owned 
all  the  ground  for  a  time,  and  rumor  has  it  that  the  Senor  helped 
to  fill  the  graves.  The  most  skilled  duelist  of  his  day,  there  are 
so  many  stories  concerning  Pepe's  artistry  with  swords  and  pis- 
tols that  undoubtedly  many  of  them  are  romantic  fables.  It  is 
said  he  mastered  every  weapon,  was  the  South's  greatest  expert 
with  the  saber,  was  invulnerable  when  armed  with  the  rapier  or 
small  sword.  He  could  balance  an  egg  on  his  small  son's  head 
and  crack  the  shell  at  thirty  paces  with  a  bullet.  He  could  hit  a 
coin  tossed  into  the  air  twenty-five  times  in  succession  without 
missing  once,  using  a  rifle.  He  was  a  positive  genius  with  a 
bowie  knife.  If  he  didn't  fill  a  graveyard  singlehanded,  says  the 
legend,  he  at  least  furnished  one  with  a  beginning  to  be  proud  of, 
and  one  of  his  less  serious  diversions  was  to  wander  the  aisles  of 
his  cemetery  and  knock  the  pipes  from  between  the  teeth  of 
Negro  workmen  with  rifle  shots.  Only  occasionally,  however, 
did  he  ever  receive  a  new  client  for  his  cemetery  in  this  particular 
fashion;  he  was  too  capable  a  marksman. 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Now  he  lies  in  Saint  Vincent  de  Paul  himself,  in  a  modest 
tomb,  simply  inscribed: 

Joseph  Lulla,  Sr. 

Native  of  Mahon,  Spain 

Died  March  6,  1888 

Aged  73  years. 

Saint  Vincent  de  Paul  (Louisa  Street)  Cemetery  was,  however, 
built  by  a  priest  in  1831  and  acquired  by  Senor  Lulla  about  two 
years  before  the  War  Between  the  States.  In  general  it  is  much 
in  the  tradition  of  the  Saint  Louis  cemeteries.  There  are  ovens 
in  many  of  the  walls,  tombs,  often  of  fine  design,  and  few  ground 
burials. 

Cards  reading  as  follows  may  be  seen  on  many  of  the  ovens : 

IMPORTANT  NOTICE 

Anyone  interested  in  the  remains  of  person 
or  persons  interred  in  this  vault 

CALL  AT  CEMETERY  OFFICE  TODAY 

This  indicates  that  the  rent  is  unpaid  and  that  the  remains  are 
about  to  be  removed.  A  charred  pile  of  coffin  handles  and  other 
refuse  in  one  portion  of  the  grounds  shows  that  remains  have  been 
removed. 

Epitaphs  offer  some  variety.  Occasionally  a  word  is  mis- 
spelled : 

THE  FAMBILY 

of 
Jake  Hendrick 

and 
George  Ticker 

A  headstone  of  a  plot  expressed  appreciation  for  the  departed : 

Sacred 
to  the  memory  of 

Margaret  Keym 

1 6th  Sept.  1816 
3oth  Oct.   1850 

This  stone  was  erected  by  her  husband 
that  knew  her  worth. 


Cemeteries  — 5^7 

The  following,  on  an  oven  slab,  is  mystifying  because  of  the 
additional  notation. 

LquiseJ.  Stuart 

wife  of 

Claude  J.  Barrilleaux 
Died  Sept.  19,  1934 

Beneath,  in  pencil,  is:  'C.  J.  COME  SEE  F.  G.,'  as  if  someone 
had  used  this  means  of  communicating  with  the  husband  of  the 
deceased. 

Saint  Vincent  de  Paul's  is  famed  as  the  last  resting  place  of  a 
noted  gypsy  queen.  On  November  9,  1916,  word  spread  through 
lower  New  Orleans  that  an  unusual  funeral  procession  was  in 
progress.  Men,  women  and  children  lined  the  streets  near  the 
graveyard  to  watch  the  long  line  of  carriages  and  the  mourners 
marching  on  foot,  all  garbed  in  their  vivid  gypsy  costumes, 
munching  grapes  as  they  walked  and  drinking  wine  from  huge 
cups.  Marie,  daughter  of  Bosche,  King  of  the  Tinker  Gypsies, 
was  being  borne  to  her  grave. 

The  body  was  placed  in  a  large,  specially  constructed  tomb, 
and  after  it  was  sealed  all  members  of  the  tribe  made  indentations 
in  the  soft  cement  with  coins  of  many  nations.  The  ceremony 
proceeded  with  dances  and  singing  by  many  of  the  gypsies. 
Finally  each  man  and  woman  of  the  tribe  approached  the  tomb 
and  sprinkled  wine  over  it,  then  drank  the  remainder  from  his  or 
her  bottle.  After  this,  all  departed  silently. 

But  the  next  day  they  returned,  spread  long  tables  before  the 
tomb  and  held  a  feast.  After  masons  had  applied  a  second  coat 
of  cement,  certain  members  of  the  tribe,  apparently  'royalty,' 
made  impressions  in  the  new  cement  with  their  rings.  After  the 
marble  slab  was  set  in  place,  grapes  were  thrown  against  the 
tomb.  Then,  after  lighting  a  candle  in  a  black  receptacle  on  the 
tomb,  the  tribe  departed. 

Every  time  a  Tinker  Gypsy  comes  to  New  Orleans  his  presence 
may  be  noted  by  a  candle  burning  on  the  grave,  and  frequently 
grapes  are  seen  about  the  tomb.  In  1937  a  man  came  to  the  sexton 
and  demanded  that  the  marble  slab  be  removed.  This  was  done, 
and  as  soon  as  the  stranger  saw  the  impressions  of  the  rings  be- 
neath, he  asked  that  the  slab  be  replaced,  apparently  satisfied 


$ $2  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

that  the  royal  remains  had  not  been  disturbed.  He  then  drew 
wine  and  grapes  from  his  pocket  and  performed  the  usual  rites, 
lighted  a  fresh  candle.  Then  he  made. a  queer  request.  Would  the 
sexton  do  this  for  him  each  year?  Each  year  two  bottles  of  wine 
and  some  grapes  would  be  sent,  and  the  extra  bottle  of  wine 
would  be  in  small  payment  for  the  trouble.  In  the  event  of  his 
own  death,  the  sexton  was  to  pass  on  the  custom  to  someone  else. 

'Come  on  down  next  year  and  watch  me  play  Tinker  Gypsy,' 
the  sexton  invited.  'Every  year  on  November  9th  the  grapes 
and  wine  arrive  and  I've  always  done  as  I  promised.  You  see, 
before  the  stranger  left,  he  told  me  quietly,  ' '  I  have  come  over 
ten  thousand  miles  just  for  this.  Marie,  Queen  of  the  Tinker 
Gypsies,  was  my  mother!" 

There  have  been  reports  of '  whizzing  noises'  from  within  some 
of  the  vaults,  but  the  sexton  says  it  is  his  belief  that  the  '  whiz- 
zing noises'  are  only  bats  which  sometimes  get  inside  the  tombs. 
When  there  was  an  arch  over  one  of  the  gates,  visitors  com- 
plained of  being  followed  by  an  unseen  presence .  They  could  dis- 
tinctly hear  footsteps,  but  there  was  never  anyone  in  sight. 
Finally  the  arch  was  destroyed.  The  sexton  says  that  this  was 
caused  by  the  echo  of  the  walker's  own  footsteps  and  was  an 
acoustical  rather  than  a  psychic  phenomenon. 

Then  there  is  the  story  of  the  woman  who  used  to  visit  the 
cemetery  every  evening,  light  a  candle  before  a  vault  and  kneel 
to  pray.  This  would,  in  itself,  have  caused  no  excitement,  as  it  is 
a  common  sight  in  New  Orleans  graveyards.  The  strange  thing 
was  that  the  flame  of  the  candle  never  flickered,  never  went  out 
until  it  burned  down  to  a  black  smudge.  Rain,  wind  and  storm 
had  no  effect  upon  it.  Much  speculation  began  as  to  the  identity 
of  the  woman.  Was  she  a  witch?  A  saint?  Every  description 
conceivable  was  broadcast;  she  was  white  and  beautiful;  she  was 
young;  she  was  old;  she  was  an  octoroon,  a  lovely  pale  tan 
creature  who  came  to  pray  at  the  tomb  of  her  white  lover;  she 
was  a  wrinkled  hag  as  black  as  jet;  she  was  Creole;  she  was  for- 
eign; she  was  a  voodoo  priestess.  No  one  ever  decided,  though 
hundreds  must  have  seen  her.  Only  one  thing  is  certain:  for  over 
a  month  she  came  and  lighted  her  candles  and  knelt  in  prayer, 
and  the  defiant  candles  defied  all  natural  law  and  burned  through 


Cemeteries 

wind  and  rain.   Then  she  vanished  as  quietly  as  she  had  come. 

Saint  Roch's  Campo  Santo  is  one  of  the  most  unusual  cemeteries 
in  New  Orleans.  Surrounded  by  high  brick  walls,  in  which  are 
the  usual  ovens,  there  are  chapel-like  niches  in  the  four  corners 
and  at  the  middle  of  each  wall,  forming  a  Way  of  the  Cross,  all 
marked  with  wooden  stations  and  serving  as  small  shrines. 
Saint  Roch's,  strangely,  has  the  appearance  of  being  of  great  age, 
though  it  is  not  nearly  so  old  as  it  appears. 

In  the  center  aisle  is  a  huge  cross,  holding  a  life-sized  figure  of 
Christ;  before  it  is  a  sundial  and  a  reclining  image  of  a  child. 
There  is  a  strange  belief  that  the  child  is  not  really  a  statue,  but 
the  petrified  body  of  the  first  child  buried  in  the  cemetery.  The 
toes  are  missing  from  one  foot,  and  many  persons  stoop  and  feel 
the  broken  place,  mistaking  the  porous  appearance  of  the  inte- 
rior of  the  statue  for  petrified  human  flesh.  But  there  is  no  truth 
to  the  story.  Cemetery  officials  have  positive  proof  that  the 
statue  was  imported  from  Italy,  and  is  a  statue. 

But  it  is  Saint  Roch's  Chapel  that  attracts  most  visitors. 
Though  the  slender  Gothic  building  is  only  a  little  more  than 
sixty  years  old,  it  has  the  appearance  of  a  medieval  structure. 
Inside,  replicas  of  human  limbs  and  organs  hanging  against  one 
wall  testify  to  the  cures  attributed  to  prayers  offered  to  Saint 
Roch.  Beneath  are  stacked  crutches,  braces  and  artificial  limbs. 
On  a  wall  opposite  are  scores  of  little  marble  plaques,  square, 
circular  and  heart-shaped,  each  bearing  one  word:  'Thanks.' 
The  shrine  is  famous  for  'healing.' 

The  chapel  contains  but  seven  pews,  five  on  one  side,  two  on 
the  other.  On  the  altar  is  a  statue  of  Saint  Roch  with  his  dog; 
beneath,  in  a  glass-fronted  tomb,  a  life-sized  image  of  Christ 
removed  from  the  cross. 

Besides  his  efficacy  in  rendering  'cures,'  Saint  Roch  is  popular 
with  New  Orleans  girls,  who  go  to  the  chapel  to  pray  for  hus- 
bands, despite  the  belief  that  '  Saint  Roch  will  give  you  what 
you  want,  but  he  always  takes  something  else  away.'  Saint 
Roch  is  thought  to  be  one  of  the  eccentric  saints  like  Saint  An- 
thony, whom  some  New  Orleans  folks  say  must  always  be  ad- 
dressed roughly,  with  a  threat  such  as,  'Look  here,  Saint  An- 
thony, you'd  better  grant  my  wish  or  I'll  kick  you  in  the  pants/ 


3$4  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Other  people  turn  the  saint's  statue  with  its  face  to  the  wall  and 
they  say  he  obeys  their  wish  in  a  hurry. 

At  the  foot  of  the  altar  within  the  shrine  is  buried  Father  Peter 
Leonard  Thevis,  who  alone  and  with  his  own  hands  built  the 
chapel.  The  inscription  —  in  German  —  states  that  Father 
Thevis  was  born  February  7,  1837,  and  died  August  SLI,  1895. 
Two  other  priests  are  also  buried  beneath  the  marble  floor  —  one, 
Reverend  F.  X.  Couppens  of  Saint  Theresa's  Church,  who  died  in 
1897;  the  other,  Reverend  J.  D.  Thevis,  former  assistant  pastor 
at  Holy  Trinity  Church. 

In  Saint  Roch  Number  i,  just  behind  Number  i,  the  Mauso- 
leum of  Michael  the  Archangel  still  stands,  looking  even  more 
ancient  than  does  the  Saint  Roch  Chapel,  though  it  was  erected 
in  1891.  There  is  little  else  in  this  square.  Three  of  the  walls 
contain  ovens,  but  many  of  these  are  empty  or  in  a  disreputable 
state.  There  are  few  graves,  even  fewer  tombs. 

The  mausoleum  looks  like  something  left  over  from  an  air 
raid.  The  Gothic  building  is  flanked  by  medieval  towers,  one 
containing  the  former  belfry.  Beneath  and  in  all  the  walls  are 
crypts  which  were  formerly  occupied  by  deceased  priests  and 
nuns,  but  are  now  empty  with  a  sole  exception,  this  one  bearing 
a  comparatively  new  marble  slab  and  a  name.  Old  and  rain- 
beaten  notices  on  all  sides  of  the  ruins  warn  that  all  remains  must 
be  removed  by  November  i,  1931,  and  apparently  this  order  was 
thoroughly  obeyed.  Ferns,  goldenrod  and  Virginia  creeper  grow 
abundantly  on  the  roof  and  wave  from  the  yawning  crypts.  All 
the  once  handsome  stained-glass  windows  are  smashed  and  most 
of  the  murals,  executed  by  Carmelite  monks  —  formerly  at 
Carmel,  Louisiana  —  are  defaced,  though  a  few  are  in  remark- 
ably good  condition.  Once  statues  of  saints  occupied  pilasters 
on  all  sides  of  the  exterior  of  the  structure,  but  all  are  gone  now 
except  one  which  has  no  head.  There  has  been  much  discussion 
regarding  whether  the  mausoleum  should  be  demolished  or 
restored.  Once  some  of  the  crypts  were  rented  out  at  ten  dollars 
a  month  and  many  were  let  to  Chinese,  and  the  sexton  remembers 
seeing  fruit  and  other  foods  left  outside  the  slabs. 

In  1937  a  ghost  came  out  of  a  tomb  in  Saint  Roch  Cemetery 
Number  2.  and  sat  on  a  grave.  She  did  this  every  night  for  weeks. 


Cemeteries 

Louis  Haley,  the  sexton,  said  he  saw  her  every  night  and  that 
she  was  positively  a  spook;  he  approached  her  several  times  and 
she  always  faded  right  back  into  her  tomb  and  was  nowhere  to 
be  seen  about.  As  soon  as  the  story  broke  in  the  newspapers, 
thousands  of  people  crowded  about  the  walls  determined  to  see  a 
real  spirit  for  once  in  their  lives.  Gradually  the  story  died  a 
natural  death  when  it  was  discovered  that  the  ghost-woman  was 
only  a  peculiar  shadow  caused  by  the  combination  of  a  white  urn 
and  two  trees.  This  sad  fact  was  revealed  by  the  New  Orleans 
Tribune  on  July  10,  1937. 

The  oldest  Protestant  cemetery  in  New  Orleans  is  the  Girod 
Cemetery.  This  is,  without  a  doubt,  the  weariest  graveyard  in 
the  world.  The  whole  place  seems  to  sigh  perpetually;  even  the 
fig  trees  which  grow  within  the  grounds  sag  with  hopeless 
acquiescence  to  time  and  neglect.  Grass  and  weeds  are  knee- 
high,  and  grow  abundantly  on  tombs  and  graves  and  in  the 
walks.  Thick  wistaria  vines  twist  and  coil  grotesquely  about 
ovens,  as  if  to  squeeze  out  the  bones  of  the  buried.  And  in  many 
places  skulls  and  bones  are  bleaching  under  the  sun  in  dismal 
symbolization  of  decay  and  dissolution.  Poe  might  have  found 
inspiration  in  this  morbid  and  macabre  scene.  A  family  of  black 
cats  add  their  bit  to  the  sinister  atmosphere,  following  visitors 
and  purring  and  rubbing  at  their  ankles,  or  sleeping  lazily  in  the 
sun  amid  a  miscellaneous  collection  of  skulls  and  femurs. 

Yet  the  tombs  and  vaults  in  Girod  Cemetery  possess  epitaphs 
that  are  rich  with  sentiment.  Among  them  is  one  revealing  a 
great  love.  J.  W.  Cal dwell,  a  prominent  citizen  of  the  early 
nineteenth  century,  fell  madly  in  love  with  Jane  Placide,  an  ac- 
tress at  the  old  Saint  Charles  Theatre  in  New  Orleans.  Unable  to 
marry,  because  his  wife  refused  him  a  divorce,  their  clandestine 
affair  was  the  scandal  of  the  day.  And  when  the  beautiful  ac- 
tress died  in  1835,  Caldwell  chose  lines  from  the  poetry  of  Barry 
Cornwall  as  an  epitaph,  which,  even  more  than  a  century  later, 
proclaims  the  depth  and  fervor  of  their  passion : 

There's  not  an  hour 
of  day  or  dreaming  night  but  I  am 

with  thee; 
There's  not  a  breeze  but  whispers 

of  thy  name, 


j?  3  6  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

And  not  a  flower  that  sleeps 

beneath  the  moon 
But  in  its  fragrance  tells  a  tale 

of  thee. 

Another  tomb  is  that  of  John  David  Fink,  who  left  money  for 
an  asylum  for  Protestant  widows,  a  refuge  which  does  not  ac- 
cept spinsters.  Once  John  David  Fink  had  loved  a  girl  who  ridi- 
culed his  devotion  and  told  him  she  would  rather  be  an  old  maid 
than  his  wife,  and  work  out  her  own  destiny.  His  will,  be- 
queathing the  funds  for  the  Fink  Home  in  New  Orleans,  con- 
tained a  clause  forbidding  that  any  unmarried  woman  ever  be 
admitted.  'Let  every  old  maid  work  out  her  destiny,'  said  the 
document  with  grim  irony. 

One  of  the  most  interesting  epitaphs  in  Girod  Cemetery  is  the 
briefest;  it  says,  'After  a  Painless  Death  he  passed  to  Paradise.' 
Another  reads: 

William  Lewis 
April  1  6th,  1870 

Also  Gone  to  the  Golden  City 

Mary  E.  Lewis 
May  10,  1882. 

And  —  from  a  wife  to  her  husband: 

Robert  E.  Conway 
Died  May  8,  1875,  a£ed  61 


Dearest,  forgive  the  thought  that  would  wish  thee  here. 

On  an  oven  wherein  lie  the  remains  of  a  young  Englishman  is 
this  rather  pathetic  inscription  : 

Sacred 
to  the  memory  of 

HENRY  KENDALL 

born  in  the  county 

of  Cumberland,  England 

who  died  2.6,  Sept.  1841 

aged  2.9  years. 


Cemeteries 

By  foreign  hands  his  dying  eyes  were  closed, 
By  foreign  hands  his  manly  limbs  composed, 
By  foreign  hands  his  humble  grave  adorned, 
By  strangers  honored,  and  by  strangers  mourned. 

The  Girod  Cemetery  was  at  one  time  troubled  with  ghoulish 
thieves,  who  stole  iron  and  brass  from  the  tombs,  and  carried  off 
flowers  and  shrubs.  Both  sexes  seem  to  have  been  suspected,  for 
the  Crescent  City  Weekly ',  May  i,  1841,  reprimanded  them  in  this 
fashion : 

Lady,  forsooth!  A  lady,  Mr.  Editor,  is  a  being  so  refined  in 
her  feelings,  that  she  would  shun  the  possibility  of  inflicting 
pain  on  anyone,  much  less  would  she  commit  a  moral  wrong. 
...  A  lady  would  intuitively  shrink  from  such  an  act  as  this. 
As  to  the  male  of  the  species,  all  that  need  be  said  of  him  is 
that  a  man  who  will  steal  in  a  graveyard  cannot  have  the 
slightest  pretensions  to  the  character  of  a  gentleman. 

Girod  Cemetery  reflects  in  a  small  way  what  all  New  Orleans 
graveyards  once  were.  In  early  days  burials  were  all  in  the 
ground  and  were  terrifying  affairs.  Caskets  were  lowered  into 
gurgling  pools  of  water  and  were  sunk  into  pits  of  oozing 
mud.  As  often  as  not,  the  coffin  would  capsize  as  the  water 
seeped  within.  Heavy  rains  or  a  storm  would  cast  newly  buried, 
half-decomposed  cadavers  to  the  surface.  A  correspondent  for 
the  Courier  of  June  n,  1833,  described  a  walk  in  the  Catholic 
Burial  Ground  in  this  way: 

The  horrid  image  of  this  place  is  still  in  my  mind.  I  cannot 
drive  it  from  my  imagination.  The  tombs  are  all  above 
ground,  and  those  who  can  afford  it  will  never  be  buried  under- 
ground  

This  graveyard  is  all  on  a  dead  level  and  on  rainy  days  in- 
undated with  water.  It  is  a  morass,  a  swamp  partly  rescued 
from  its  wilderness.  I  followed  the  procession  to  the  grave. 
The  coffin  was  taken  from  the  hearse. 

I  now  watched  the  process  of  interment The  body  was 

that  of  a  colored  person  who  had  died  of  cholera  (which  is  an 
epidemic  now).  They  tarried  to  see  the  last  of  their  friend. 

The  grave  was  not  over  two  feet  and  a  half  deep,  I  measured 
it  for  curiosity.  The  bottom  was  soft  mud  into  which  could  be 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

thrust  a  stick  to  almost  any  depth.  The  water  was  within  a 
foot  of  the  top  of  the  grave.  The  clods  of  earth  around  all 
clay,  such  as  earth  as  would  be  dug  from  a  bog.  The  coffin  was 
put  into  the  grave  and  it  floated  so  as  to  be  level  with  the  sur- 
face. 

A  negro,  a  fiend-looking  brute,  with  his  pantaloons  above 
his  knees,  all  covered  with  clay  in  which  he  had  been  work- 
ing, without  hat,  without  coat  or  a  whole  shirt  —  but  with  a 
hoe  and  a  spade,  mounted  the  top  of  the  coffin,  and  tramped  it 
under  the  water,  and  then  a  brother-looking  being  threw  the 
clods  on. ... 

I  then  looked  around  among  the  graves.  A  hole  here  and 
holes  there  were  all  ready  for  the  next  comers  — •  some  six  feet 
or  more  long,  some  three  or  four  feet  long.  The  water  was  in 
all  the  graves.  The  ground  beneath  our  feet  was  like  that  of  a 
swamp  the  surface  of  which  the  sun  had  encrusted.  I  tumbled 
over  broken  coffins,  pieces  of  which  were  piled  in  little  heaps, 
and  pieces  of  which  were  placed  as  stakes  to  mark  the  spot  of 
the  last  buried. 

The  very  earth  gave  way  under  my  feet.  The  vegetation 
was  that  of  a  swamp.  The  rank  weeds  flourished  roughly  over 
many  a  dead  body.  Old  sticks,  old  poles,  such  as  our  garden- 
ers stick  peas  with,  while  sides  of  coffins  were  put  up  as  grave 
stands.  What  a  spectacle! ...  I  hurried  away,  sickening  from 
the  spectacle.  For  from  the  earth  pestilence  seemed  to  be  issu- 
ing. In  many  places  the  odours  were  insufferable. . .  ."l 

I  went  to  the  Protestant,  the  American  burying  ground,  but 
not  any  were  as  neat  as  I  saw  in  the  French  graveyard. . .. 

The  Americans  here  would  not  tolerate  it,  if  they  made  this 
their  abiding  place  and  not  the  place  to  alight  and  make  money 

in.  But  no  man  calculates  on  dying  here I  had  heard  much 

of  the  trenches  or  pits  in  which  the  cholera  victims  were  bur- 
ied. Language  cannot,  if  it  were  proper  to  array  words  in  the 
description,  portray  the  facts  as  they  happened  at  that  alarm- 
ing season.  A  friend  tells  me  the  worst  accounts,  but  half 
realized  the  terror  of  those  times.  He  saw  a  few  bodies  with- 
out coffins  piled  in  masses  around  these  pits.  The  dray-men 
raced  off,  full  gallop  to  the  yard,  so  brisk  was  their  business, 
and  then  chuckled  at  their  profits. 

Two  of  these  pits  were  filled  with  victims;  and  dirt  was 
thrown  over  them.  The  earth  was  moist  an'd  with  a  stick  I 


Cemeteries  — 

sounded  the  ditches.  My  stick  was  pushed  down  with  ease. 
I  know  not  how  far  it  would  have  driven.  The  exhalations 
from  these  ditches  were  unsufferable.  I  turned  from  it  to  catch 
a  breath  of  less  contaminated  air. . . . 

I  lost  only  a  breakfast  from  this  stride  among  the  tombs, 
gratifying  a  curiosity  which  is  now  quite  satiated! 

Of  course  the  cholera  and  yellow-fever  epidemics  added  much 
to  the  horror,  and  the  death  rate  in  New  Orleans  was  appalling. 
The  New  Orleans  City  Guide  shows  that  the  rate  per  thousand  from 
1800  to  1880  was  scandalous,  that  the  lowest  was  40.2.2.  from 
1860  to  1870,  while  the  highest  was  63.55  ^rom  1830" to  1840. 

During  the  great  yellow-fever  epidemic  of  1853  there  was  even 
a  serious  shortage  of  gravediggers  and  men  were  offered  five  dol- 
lars an  hour  to  perform  this  task.  The  streets  of  New  Orleans 
rumbled  with  cart  wheels,  whose  drivers  stopped  before  houses 
with  the  grim  invitation,  'Bring  out  your  dead!'  And  by  the 
light  of  flaring  torches,  shallow  graves  were  dug  and  the  bodies 
hurriedly  covered.  When  the  rains  came,  it  was  not  unusual  for 
these  decaying  bodies  to  be  washed  up.  The  New  Orleans  Bee, 
August  9,  1853,  complained: 

Upon  inquiry  yesterday  we  ascertained  that  the  festering 
and  decaying  bodies  which  had  been  deposited  in  the  Lafayette 
Cemetery,  had  at  last  been  consigned  to  mother  earth.  The 
eyes  will  no  longer  be  pained  and  the  nostrils  offended  by  the 
further  continuance  of  the  horrible  neglect.  The  Mayor  of 
our  City,  though  absolutely  destitute  of  all  direct  authority, 
upon  learning  the  facts  on  Sunday,  secured  the  labor  of  the 
chain  gang,  and  set  them  immediately  to  work.  After  many 
hours  of  incessant  labor,  the  task  was  completed  yesterday. 

A  more  disgraceful  administration  of  our  municipal  affairs 
have  never  been  witnessed.  It  is  unworthy  of  a  civilized  peo- 
pie.... 

In  his  General  Butler  in  New  Orleans,  James  Parton  stated: 

It  is  not  generally  known  at  the  North,  that  in  the  worst 
years,  the  mortality  from  yellow  fever  in  New  Orleans  exceeds 
that  from  any  epidemic  that  has  raged  in  a  civilized  commu- 
nity. It  is  worse  than  the  modern  cholera,  worse  than  the 
small-pox  before  inoculation,  worse  than  the  ancient  plague. 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

A  competent  and  trustworthy  visitor  gives  the  facts  of  the 
yellow  fever  season  of  1853,  the  most  fatal  year  ever  known: 

'Commencing  on  the  ist  of  August,  with  one  hundred  and 
six  deaths  by  yellow  fever,  one  hundred  and  forty-two  by  all 
diseases,  the  number  increased  daily,  until  for  the  first  week, 
ending  on  the  yth,  they  amounted  to  nine  hundred  and  nine 
deaths  by  yellow  fever,  one  thousand  one  hundred  and  eighty- 
six  of  all  diseases.  The  next  week  showed  a  continued  increase 
to  one  thousand  five  hundred  and  twenty-six  of  all  diseases. 
This  was  believed  to  be  the  maximum.  There  had  been  noth- 
ing like  it  in  the  history  of  any  previous  epidemics,  and  no 
one  believed  it  could  be  exceeded.  But  the  next  week  gave  a 
mournful  refutation  of  these  predictions  and  calculations;  for 
that  ever  memorable  week,  the  total  deaths  were  one  thousand 
five  hundred  and  seventy-six,  of  yellow  fever  one  thousand 
three  hundred  and  forty-six.  But  the  next  week  commenced 
more  gloomily  still.  The  deaths  on  the  2.2.d  of  August  were 
two  hundred  and  eighty-three  of  all  diseases,  two  hundred 
and  thirty-nine  of  yellow  fever.  From  this  it  began  slowly  to 
decrease. 

. . .  Funeral  processions  crowded  every  street.  No  vehicles 
could  be  seen  except  doctors'  cabs  and  coaches,  passing  to  and 
from  the  cemeteries,  and  hearses,  often  solitary,  taking  their 
way  toward  those  gloomy  destinations.  The  hum  of  trade 
was  silent.  The  levee  was  a  desert.  The  streets,  wont  to  shine 
with  fashion  and  beauty,  were  silent.  The  tombs  —  the 
homes  of  the  dead  —  were  the  only  places  where  there  was 
life,  where  crowds  assembled,  where  the  incessant  rumbling 
of  carriages,  the  trampling  of  feet,  the  murmur  of  voices,  and 
all  the  signs  of  active,  stirring  life  could  be  heard  and  seen. 

'  To  realize  the  fierce  horror  and  virulence  of  the  pestilence, 
you  must  go  into  the  crowded  localities  of  the  laboring  classes, 
into  the  miserable  shanties  which  are  the  disgrace  of  the  city, 
where  the  poor  immigrant  class  cluster  together  in  filth,  sleep- 
ing a  half-dozen  in  one  room,  without  ventilation,  and  having 
access  to  filthy  wet  yards,  which  have  never  been  filled  up,  and 
when  it  rains  are  converted  into  green  puddles  —  fit  abodes 
for  frogs  and  sources  of  poisonous  malaria.  Here  you  will  find 
scenes  of  woe,  misery  and  death,  which  will  haunt  your  mem- 
ory for  all  time  to  come.  Here  you  will  see  the  dead  and  the 
dying,  the  sick  and  the  convalescent,  in  one  and  the  same  bed. 


Cemeteries  —  341 

Here  you  will  see  the  living  babe  sucking  death  from  the  yel- 
low breast  of  his  dead  mother.  Here  father,  mother,  and  chil- 
dren die  in  one  another's  arms.  Here  you  will  find  whole  fami- 
lies swept  off  in  a  few  hours,  so  that  none  are  left  to  mourn  or 
procure  the  rites  of  burial.  Offensive  odors  frequently  drew 
neighbors  to  such  awful  spectacles.  Corpses  would  thus  pro- 
claim their  existence,  and  enforce  the  observances  due  them. 
What  a  terrible  disease ! . . . 

As  many  as  three  hundred  persons  a  day  were  buried  during  the 
1853  epidemic,  an  accomplishment  that  was  almost  impossible. 
Sometimes  caskets  were  simply  borne  to  the  graveyards,  stacked 
up,  and  left  waiting  their  turn.  Conditions  arising  from  this 
necessitated  extreme  measures.  One  day  the  Louisiana  Spectator 
notified  citizens: 

Residents  will  be  glad  to  know  that  the  spreading  of  lime 
and  the  constant  burning  of  tar  has  removed  all  traces  of  odor 
so  concentrated  during  the  last  few  days. 

On  March  2.3,  1835,  a  funeral  road  was  established  in  New 
Orleans,  according  to  the  1835  Scrapbook  at  the  Howard-Tilton 
Library,  when  an  ordinance  was  passed  to  contract  with  a 
J.  Arrows  mi  th  for  a  railroad  from  St.  Claude  Street  toward 
Bayou  St.  John,  its  purpose  being  to  convey  funeral  parties  to  the 
cemeteries.  There  were  detailed  terms  as  to  the  number  of 
corpses  to  be  carried  each  trip,  separate  cars  being  provided  for 
Whites  and  for  slaves.  Branch  lines  were  to  run  into  all  the 
cemeteries.  Apparently,  however,  the  project  amounted  to  little. 

As  late  as  May  2.9,  1875,  tne  New  Orleans  Bulletin  contained  a 
dreadful  accusation  against  conditions  in  the  Pauper's  or  Locust 
Grove  Cemetery,  located  in  Sixth  Street  between  Freret  and 
Locust  Streets: 

...  In  our  other  cemeteries,  friends  and  relations  in  the 
pangs  of  bereavement  rear,  above  loved  ones,  and  their  last 
homes,  mausoleums  of  regret  which  in  a  great  measure,  serve 
to  mask  the  terror  of  the  dark  angel,  but  here  death  was  visi- 
ble everywhere.  Visible  in  the  latch  you  raised  to  enter  the 
yard,  made  from  an  old  coffin,  visible  in  the  stained  and 
mouldy  winding  sheet,  rotting  in  the  laughing  clover  beside 
the  walk.  On  the  left  of  the  central  path,  it  was  evident  that 


$  4  2  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

friends  had  cared  for  many  of  the  graves,  but  on  the  right  the 
picture  was  a  sad  one  indeed.  Here  in  a  pile  some  five  feet  in 
height  were  some  fifty  babies  untenanted.  After  the  weary 
little  bodies  had  wasted  away,  they  were  heaped  carelessly 
together  like  so  much  old  lumber,  one  upon  the  other,  and  the 
sacrilegious  flies  seemed  to  be  feasting  upon  the  sickening  odor 
hanging  over  them.  Scattered  about  lay  coffins  of  all  sizes, 
and  the  reporter  turning  over  one  remarkable  for  its  length, 
was  almost  stifled  by  the  stench,  to  the  effects  of  which  was 
added  that  a  case  of  small  pox  had  been  taken  out  of  it.  Coffin 
lids  were  used  in  many  places  to  mend  the  fences,  and  so  many 
were  the  uses  they  were  put  to,  the  whole  place  breathed  of 
destruction  and  pestilence. 

Charity  Hospital  in  New  Orleans  once  had  a  wagon  to  carry 
the  dead  to  the  Pauper's  Field,  and  on  at  least  one  occasion  a 
driver  seems  to  have  done  more  than  his  duty.  The  New  Orleans 
Bulletin  of  May  2.9,  1875,  related  the  story  under  the  following 
'shocker'  headlines: 

BURIED    ALIVE 

SICKENING  TALE  OF  OUR  HOSPITAL  DEAD 
A  MAN  IN  THE  CHARITY  WAGON  REVIVES 
HE  ATTEMPTS  TO  GET  OUT  OF  HIS  COFFIN 

THE  DRIVER  SMOTHERS  HIM 
FULL  DETAILS  AND  STATEMENT  OF  WITNESS 

The  story  accused  the  driver  of  killing  the  'dead'  man  as  the 
latter  attempted  to  get  out  of  his  coffin.  A  witness  (C.  H.  Beggs) 
testified  that  he  saw  the  incident,  stating,  according  to  the  news- 
paper: 'The  driver  lifted  out  a  coffin  and  was  about  to  deposit  it 
in  the  hole  prepared  for  it,  when  the  occupant  of  the  coffin  kicked 
off  the  lid  and  cried,  "For  God's  sake,  do  not  bury  me  alive!" 
The  driver  picked  up  a  brick,  and  crying,  ' '  You  —  — ,  I  have 

a  doctor's  certificate  that  you  are  dead,  and  I'm  going  to  bury 
you."  He  then  struck  the  man,  and  stunning  him  or  killing  him, 
proceeded  with  the  burial.'  The  Bulletin  remarked  that  'The 
police  took  the  matter  very  coolly  and  did  not  seem  to  think  it 
worth  working  up.'  It  then  announced  that  a  reporter  was  as- 


^\Tx 


BBT 

W 


f 


'Skeletons,"  a  painting  by  Edward  Schoenberger,  was  inspired  by  the  New  Orleans  cemeteries 

Louisiana  Art  Project 


The  Devil  in  a  Cemetery,  from  a  painting  by  John  McCrady 
Louisiana  Art  Project 


The  Mausoleum  of  Michael  the  Archangel.  Abandoned  Gothic  chapel  in  the  Campo 
Santo  adjoining  St.  Roch's  Cemetery.  Note  the  empty  tombs  in  the  walls 


Old  tomb,  Girod  Cemetery 


Chanty  Hospital  Cemetery,  the  Potter's  Field 


tf$: 


Mb* 


t% 


M 


Prices  posted  for  cemetery  burial  and  removal,  St.  Louis  Cemeteries 


Cemeteries  —  34$ 

signed  to  the  case,  who  was  determined  to  get  to  the  bottom  of 
the  affair. 

Various  witnesses  made  statements,  scarcely  two  alike.  Me- 
linda  Smith  testified:  'I  was  close  to  the  wagon.  I  saw  that  man 
move  his  hand.  The  driver  took  a  cushion  off  the  seat,  put  it 
over  the  man's  face  and  sat  on  him  until  he  was  smothered. 
Then  he  took  a  hammer  and  nailed  down  the  lid. '  Mary  Thomp- 
son said:  'I  saw  a  man  in  that  coffin.  He  was  alive.  The  driver 
picked  up  a  baby's  coffin  that  was  also  in  the  wagon  and  put  it 
on  top  of  him,  and  sat  on  it. '  Rosa  Johnson  said : '  I  saw  the  arms 
of  the  man  raised.  I  know  he  was  alive.  The  driver  put  a  pillow 
over  his  head  and  smothered  him.'  William  Harrison  said:  'I 
looked  into  the  coffin.  The  man  was  breathing  and  the  driver 
had  dropped  a  big  cobblestone  on  his  chest.'  Mrs.  Louise  Weber 
said:  'The  gravedigger  told  me  the  driver  was  a  funny  kind  of 
man  and  he  did  it  all  as  a  joke.' 

It  was  discovered  that  the  deceased  was  one  George  Banks,  a 
colored  youth  of  nineteen,  who  had  entered  Charity  Hospital  as 
a  smallpox  victim.  Authorities  there  identified  the  driver  as  one 
Jim  Connors,  saying  that '  Naturally  Jim's  work  is  suitable  to  his 
nature.  You  can't  expect  him  to  be  very  goodhearted  or  tender. 
But  he  wouldn't  commit  murder.'  Schwartz,  sexton  of  the 
Pauper's  Field,  swore:  'The  man  was  dead.  I  buried  him.  The 
coffin  had  fallen  to  pieces  from  the  jolting  of  the  wagon  over  the 
cobblestone  streets.  I've  known  Jim  a  long  time. '  Nowhere  is  it 
mentioned  what  Jim  Connors  had  to  say.  However,  he  was  actu- 
ally arrested  and  held,  according  to  the  Bulletin.  That  seems  to 
have  been  the  end  of  it.  There  is  no  further  mention  of  the  case. 
Evidently  it  was  never  satisfactorily  concluded. 

Even  in  days  made  dark  by  epidemics  and  death,  Orleanians 
retained  their  sense  of 'humor.  On  August  30,  1840,  the  Daily 
Picayune  said: 

It  is  necessary  again  to  inform  the  public  that  we  never  in- 
sert marriage  or  obituary  notices  unless  when  fully  authorized, 
either  by  personal  knowledge  or  known  endorsement.  Vicious 
persons  would  have  it  in  their  power  to  create  great  mischief  if 
this  rule  were  not  enforced.  An  obituary  notice  came  to  this 
office  yesterday  unauthenticated,  and  consequently  it  does  not 
appear. 


$44  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Years  later,  on  September  13,  1876,  the  New  Orleans  Times  told 
of  fun  in  jail: 

Directly  a  new  man  beams  upon  the  prison  yard  he  is  sadly 
informed  that  a  fellow-being  having  just  departed  from  life, 
the  funeral  ceremonies  will  be  straightway  inaugurated,  and 
of  course  participation  is  expected.  Then  joining  in  a  proces- 
sion which  soon  forms,  he  moves  to  a  secluded  portion  of  the 
yard,  where  robed  in  the  habiliments  of  the  dead,  looking  for 
all  the  world  like  a  dead  man,  with  lighted  candles  placed  at 
head  and  feet,  lies  a  negro  —  the  supposed  late  lamented. 

In  accordance  with  the  traditional  observance  of  such  occa- 
sions, each  member  of  the  procession,  as  he  passes,  stoops  to 
imprint  a  last  loving  kiss  upon  the  brow  of  the  deceased  Sene- 
gambian,  and  so  in  turn  the  stranger  seeks  also  the  kiss,  when 
behold,  the  corpse,  heretofore  well  behaved,  awakens  to  sud- 
den animation  and  grasping  the  stranger  about  the  neck  holds 
firmly  in  a  grip  of  iron,  while  the  balance  of  the  negroes,  al- 
ready provided  with  sticks,  proceed  to  belabor  that  stranger 
until  he  howls  much  after  the  fashion  of  the  festive  dervish 
and  when  his  tormentors  have  sufficiently  enjoyed  his  misery, 
they  let  up  and  proceed  to  console  him  with  the  information 
that  thereafter  he  will  be  one  of  the  boys,  and  that  moreover 
he  may  have  the  first  whack  at  the  next  candidate  for  the 
sacrifice. 

In  Lafayette  Cemetery  Number  i  (perhaps  better  known  as 
Washington  Cemetery,  because  of  its  location  on  Washington 
Avenue)  is  the  tomb  of  Henry  Wat  kins  Allen,  governor  of  Lou- 
isiana during  the  War  Between  the  States.  His  epitaph  is 
slightly  baffling  with  its  four  lines  of  confused  rhetoric.  The 
chiseled  words  announce  dramatically: 

Your  friends  will  be  proud  to  know  that  Louisiana  had 
a  governor  who,  with  an  opportunity  of  securing  millions 
in  gold,  preferred  being  honest  in  a  strange  land  without 
a  cent. 

Cypress  Grove  Cemetery  (also  known  as  Firemen's  Cemetery 
because  of  the  mausoleum  there  for  firefighters  of  another  era) 
contains  a  burial  place  wherein  many  Chinese  of  the  city  are 
temporarily  entombed,  to  await  the  passing  of  a  year  and  a  day, 


Cemeteries 

when  they  may  be  shipped  home  to  Cathay,  though  the  appar- 
ently endless  wars  have  prevented  these  shipments  during  the 
past  few  years.  Large  Chinese  characters  are  inscribed  above 
this  mausoleum's  entrance,  and  figures  in  the  same  language  are 
scribbled  in  pencil  on  many  of  the  vaults  within,  though  often 
the  name  and  date  of  death  are  also  written  in  English.  Many 
slabs  are  cracked  and  broken  and  coffins  and  remains  are  at  times 
partially  exposed.  One  slab  has  a  window  in  its  center.  Pieces 
of  burnt  joss  sticks  litter  the  floor  and  the  twin  fireplaces  at  one 
end,  the  latter  for  the  purpose  of  heating  for  cold-weather 
funerals.  The  entire  place  is  in  a  disreputable  state. 

'The  gravediggers  of  Carrollton  and  Saint  Mary  Cemeteries 
are  on  strike  for  back  pay.'  Thus  read  signs  carried  by  pickets 
who  stalked  up  and  down  before  the  Carrollton  and  Saint  Mary 
Cemeteries  one  day.  Behind  the  radicals  marched  a  diminutive, 
grinning  colored  boy,  beating  a  large  tin  pan  with  a  stick  to  at- 
tract attention.  According  to  these  pickets  the  sexton  owed 
them  eighty  dollars'  back  pay,  and  there  was  no  reason  why 
they  could  not  go  on  strike  as  everybody  else  was  doing  these 
days.  So  was  the  labor  movement  carried  to  the  grave. 

Carrollton  Cemetery  enjoyed  a  mild  sensation  in  1933  when  the 
corpse  described  in  the  following  paragraph,  from  the  New  Or- 
leans States,  May  7,  1933,  was  discovered: 

The  body  of  a  man,  apparently  petrified,  is  still  attracting 
persons  to  the  old  Catholic  cemetery  in  Carrollton,  some  of 
them  having  come  from  St.  Bernard  Parish.  Apparently  the 
tomb  was  broken  open  by  vandals.  The  iron  casket  is  exposed 
and,  by  turning  the  iron  cover  over  the  small  round  glass  win- 
dow set  in  the  coffin  top,  one  can  get  a  good  view  of  the  man. 
The  inscription  on  the  tomb  shows  that  he  died  in  1879.  He 
has  red  hair,  but  is  bald  on  top.  He  has  a  mustache.  His  eyes, 
which  are  blue,  are  open,  and  his  mouth  is  open.  He  wore  a 
turned-down  collar  of  the  period. 

Carrollton  Cemetery  has  a  decidedly  German  atmosphere, 
names  such  as  Weber,  SchaefFer,  Muller  and  Francken  appearing 
on  many  slabs  and  headstones.  To  the  rear  is  the  Negro  section, 
which  is  in  a  dismal,  weed-infested  state.  Here  one  may  read 
such  epitaphs  as  '  Alcida  Lewis,  faithful  servant  of  The  Family 
J.  A.  Legendre.' 


$  4  $  ~  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Near  Cyprus  Grove,  already  mentioned,  at  the  end  of  Canal 
Street,  is  a  cluster  of  cemeteries,  including  Saint  John's,  Green- 
wood, Saint  Patrick  Number  i  and  Saint  Patrick  Number  2..  In 
contrast  to  the  older  graveyards  these  are  in  general  in  good  or- 
der and  well  kept,  with  the  exception  of  the  Saint  Patricks, 
which  are  usually  in  a  deplorable  condition.  Here  weeds  and 
grass  grow  knee-high,  except  at  All  Saints'  time,  when  there  is 
an  annual  cleaning  and  painting  program.  Irishmen  used  to  be 
interred  free  of  charge  in  these  graveyards  named  for  their  patron 
saint,  but  this  has  long  been  discontinued.  Saint  John's  Ceme- 
tery is  the  home  of  Hope  Mausoleum,  a  handsome  marble  build- 
ing of  generous  dimensions  and  tasteful  architecture,  the  first 
of  its  kind  built  in  the  South.  Still  expanding,  when  completed 
Hope  Mausoleum  will  be  one  of  the  most  beautiful  of  such  burial 
places  in  the  country. 

Metairie  Cemetery,  almost  around  the  corner  from  these 
others,  is  in  even  sharper  contrast  to  the  old  graveyards.  Of  im- 
mense acreage  and  holding  tombs  of  great  cost  and  elaborate- 
ness, besides  being  impressively  landscaped,  it  has  become  a 
showplace  for  visitors  to  New  Orleans.  Originally  a  racetrack, 
the  tremendous  grounds  were  converted  to  their  present  use  by 
Charles  T.  Howard,  president  of  both  the  New  Orleans  Racing 
Association  and  the  Louisiana  State  Lottery  Company  at  that 
time.  The  racecourse  became  the  main  drive,  other  fine  roads 
were  laid,  artificial  lagoons  dug,  trees,  flowers  and  shrubs 
planted,  the  result  being  the  creation  of  a  lovely  park  fit  to  hold 
the  elegant  tombs  of  the  wealthy  people  of  the  city. 

The  Daily  Picayune  reported  on  June  6,  1872.: 

The  task  of  converting  the  Metairie  Race  Course  into  a 
cemetery,  which  will  compare  favorably  with  any  in  the 
country,  is  receiving  the  attention  of  those  gentlemen  who 
conceived  the  plan.  The  organization  of  the  Metairie  Ceme- 
tery Company  was  perfected  at  a  meeting  held  on  May  14, 
1871,  when  the  officers  were  elected:  W.  S.  Pike,  President  and 
W.  C.  Lipscombe,  Secretary. 

At  the  entrance  .stands  the  Moriarity  Monument,  a  tall  shaft 
embellished  by  four  life-sized  female  statues.  It  is  said  that 


Cemeteries  —  $47 

Daniel  Moriarity  ordered  a  sculptor  to  do  a  group  of  'Four 
Graces'  for  his  wife's  monument  and  when  informed  there  were 
but  Three  Graces  —  Hope,  Faith  and  Charity  —  he  insisted  that 
there  be  Four  Graces  on  the  monument  anyway.  So,  the  sculptor 
obliged,  and  there  they  are  —  Four  Graces. 

A  statue  of  Stonewall  Jackson  dominates  the  marble  shaft  of 
the  monument  to  the  Army  of  Virginia,  and  Albert  Sidney  John- 
son rides  his  bronze  horse  atop  the  mound  covering  dead  heroes 
of  the  Army  of  the  Tennessee,  which  include  the  remains  of  Gen- 
eral Beauregard.  Elsewhere  in  Metairie  are  tombs  of  General 
Richard  Taylor,  General  Fred  N.  Ogden  and  General  John  B. 
Hood,  all  important  Confederate  leaders.  Jefferson  Davis  was 
buried  here,  but  was  removed. 

But  perhaps  the  most  interesting  tomb  is  that  of  a  scarlet  lady, 
once  reigning  queen  of  New  Orleans 's  Story ville.  Known  as  the 
Scarlet  Grave  of  Josie  Arlington,  this  tomb  has  attracted  so  much 
attention  from  a  curious  public  that  on  several  occasions  police 
detachments  have  had  to  remain  all  night  on  the  spot  to  main- 
tain order.  Near-by  corpses  of  respectable  females  must  spin  as 
on  spits  with  envy. 

It  seems  that  on  certain  nights  Josie 's  tomb  glows  with  an 
eerie,  fiery  light,  that,  though  appropriate,  causes  as  much  com- 
motion as  did  the  lady  during  her  hectic  life,  as  if  even  Death 
could  not  completely  extinguish  her  brilliance.  Almost  as  much 
of  a  mystery  is  the  bronze  figure  of  a  girl  rapping  on  the  door  of 
the  tomb.  Sometimes,  vow  folk  who  live  near  the  cemetery,  the 
Maiden  becomes  angry  and  pounds  the  slab  with  both  metallic 
fists  with  a  din  that  may  be  heard  for  blocks.  Strangers  in  the 
city  inquiring  about  the  noise  are  told,  'It's  the  Maiden  trying 
to  get  in.'  You  see,  rumor  had  it  that  Josie  possessed  her  own 
code  regarding  her  elaborate  Story  ville  bagnio:  she  never  per- 
mitted a  virgin  to  enter  her  establishment,  and  when  she  erected 
her  tomb  in  1911,  she  had  the  statue  placed  there  to  symbolize 
this  principle.  Twice  the  Maiden  has  taken  walks.  Once  she 
was  found  lying  in  a  dump  heap  in  the  rear  of  the  cemetery,  the 
other  time  sprawled  on  her  face  in  the  grass  along  the  Bayou 
St.  John.  People  say  the  Maiden  tired  of  knocking  and  tried  to 
run  away.  Both  incidents  occurred  on  Halloween  nights.  The 
conventional-minded  blame  small  boys. 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

But  there  is  another  legend  concerning  the  Maiden.  This  one 
states  that  the  statue  is  of  Josie,  herself.  As  a  young  girl  she  had 
stayed  out  too  late,  they  say,  and  her  father  locked  her  out  of  her 
home,  and  though  she  pounded  the  door  and  pleaded  with  him, 
he  would  never  allow  her  to  enter  again.  So  she  went  away  to 
a  career  that  was  so  successful  as  to  allow  her  to  build  herself  a 
tomb  which  cost  seventeen  thousand  dollars. 

As  far  as  the  scarlet  light  is  concerned,  police  once  became 
tired  of  the  public's  curiosity  and  decided  it  was  the  reflection  of 
a  traffic  light  on  the  pink  marble,  and  this  is  what  they  told 
everyone  who  asked.  But  there  is  not  a  traffic  light  anywhere 
near  it. 

At  the  entrance  to  Holt  Cemetery,  where  only  Negroes  are 
buried,  is  a  sign  reading: 

JV  NOTICE 

ALL  PERSONS  WHO  HAVE  BOXES 

IN  THIS  CEMETERY  MUST   KEEP 

SAME  CLEAN,  OTHERWISE  THEY 

WILL  BE  USED  FOR  OTHERS. 

BUY  A  HEADBOARD  WITH  YOUR  BOX 

and  HAVE  IT  LETTERED  HERE  pHCC  2.. 50,  3.00  and  Up. 

On  the  other  side  of  the  entrance  is  another  notice,  with  these 
instructions : 

HEADQUARTERS 

PAINTED 
&  RE-LETTERED  1.50  Up 

By  a  Headboard  with  your  Box 
&  have  it  Lettered  here 

BOXES  FOR  SALE 

SINGLE  $9.00  Double  $11.00  with  Filling 

These  'boxes'  are  ground  plots  surrounded  by  plain  twelve- 
inch  boards,  about  six  feet  long  and  four  feet  wide,  each  and 
every  board  painted  a  'battleship  gray.'  The  purpose  of  the 
board  is  to  provide  inexpensive  coping,  so  as  to  keep  the  dirt 
from  washing  from  the  grave.  Headboards  are  also  of  wood  with 


Cemeteries 

epitaphs  painted  thereon,  usually  crudely,  and  with  black  paint. 
There  are  a  very  few  marble  or  granite  headstones. 

The  white  sexton  at  Holt  is  well  acquainted  with  the  super- 
stitions prevalent  among  the  Negroes  who  bury  their  dead  there. 
'Sometimes  when  we  dig  open  a  grave  we  find  all  kinds  of 
things,'  he  said.  'I've  seen  potatoes  scooped  out  and  filled  with 
salt,  and  the  top  placed  back  on,  and  I've  seen  the  people  take 
some  of  the  dirt  from  the  grave  home  to  sprinkle  around  their 
house.  That's  all  voodoo  stuff,  you  know.  Some  of  'em  throw 
packages  of  needles  or  papers  of  pins  on  top  the  grave.'  He 
smiled.  'And  you  ought  to  hear  how  they  yell  when  they  have 
a  funeral!' 

Negroes  say,  'Trample  on  the  dust  of  the  dead  lightly,'  and 
though  it  has  a  subtler  meaning,  Negroes  don't  walk  on  graves 
without  experiencing  some  qualms.  Perhaps  the  best-known 
belief  has  to  do  with  lizards.  Hundreds  of  these  small  green  rep- 
tiles may  be  seen  darting  through  shrubbery  or  in  and  out  the 
crevices  of  tombs.  And,  say  those  who  believe  such  things,  he 
who  kills  or  maims  one  in  a  graveyard  will  undoubtedly  die 
within  a  year. 

Kill  ole  lizard  on  the  grave, 
Ain't  no  charm  your  life  can  save. 

But  it  is  extremely  good  luck  should  one  cross  your  hand.  On 
sunny  days,  when  the  chameleons  are  certain  to  appear  in  great 
numbers,  many  people  may  be  seen  in  the  graveyards  resting 
their  hands  against  tombs  and  waiting,  sometimes  for  hours, 
for  one  of  the  little  green  lizards  to  crawl  voluntarily  over  them. 

Funerals  are  not  what  they  used  to  be.  Nowadays  we  strive  to 
lift  as  much  of  the  gloomy  atmosphere  surrounding  them  as  is 
possible  under  the  circumstances;  in  other  days  every  effort 
seems  to  have  been  made  to  create  one  as  grim  and  mournful  as 
possible. 

'I  remembers  lots  of  stuff  about  funerals  in  them  olden  times,' 
admitted  Eddie  Ybos,  retired  hearse  driver.  'It  makes  me  mad 
the  way  they  have  funerals  now.  I  see  them  with  all  the  new- 
fangled doo-dads  —  the  way  they  put  the  coffin  on  top  the  grave 
on  a  artificial  grass  carpet  and  don't  dump  it  in  the  hole  until  the 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

family  has  gone  home.  They  even  have  a  little  iron  cart  to 
wheel  that  coffin  to  the  hearse  from  the  house,  and  from  the 
hearse  to  the  grave.  It  makes  me  think  of  the  days  when  they 
really  had  funerals/ 

In  many  sections  of  the  State,  an  announcement  of  the  death, 
the  hour  of  dying,  the  place  and  hour  of  the  funeral  and  other  de- 
tails were  tacked  up  in  prominent  spots,  usually  on  posts  and 
trees.  The  notices  were  black-bordered,  usually  handwritten, 
though  later  they  were  sometimes  typed  or  printed.  Creoles  of 
New  Orleans  had  a  'Death  Notice  Blackboard'  at  the  old  Saint 
Louis  Cathedral,  and  practically  every  Catholic  Church  in  the 
State  possessed  the  same  convenience.  These  notices  may  still  be 
seen  in  the  Cajun  portions  of  the  State. 

'Now  you  just  look  in  the  papers  to  see  who  is  dead,'  said 
Eddie  Ybos,  '  and  then  you  call  your  friends  up  on  the  telephone 
and  tell  'em.  But  in  my  time  we  had  to  tack  the  notices  on  posts 
or  sheds,  or  anywhere  we  could.  Most  of  the  ones  I  seen  were 
handwritten.  You  had  to  get  so  much  stuff  on  'em.  You  know, 
who  the  dead  man  was  —  husband  of  so  and  so,  cousin  of  so  and 
so,  uncle  of  so  and  so;  you  know  how  New  Orleans  people  have 
relatives.  Grocery  stores  would  let  us  put  the  notices  up  on 
their  sides.  Poles  and  fences  and  stores  used  to  have  tons  of 
tacks  in  'em,  from  people  ripping  old  notices  down  and  not  both- 
ering to  take  out  the  tacks.  Usually  notices  were  just  put  up  in 
the  neighborhood  where  the  dead  person  lived,  but  if  they  had 
money  they'd  spread  'em  all  over  town.  High-faluting  people, 
I  mean.' 

Before  the  advent  of  the  automobile  the  horses  pulling  the 
hearse  were  draped  with  black  and  decorated  with  black  plumes 
on  their  heads,  if  the  person  were  old  or  even  middle-aged;  white 
was  used  for  children  and  very  young  adults.  The  horses  were 
often  well  trained,  marching  with  impressive  dignity,  taking  a 
single  step  with  each  note  of  the  music,  if  there  were  a  band. 
Old  people  were  buried  in  black  coffins  and  the  door  of  the  home 
was  adorned  with  a  black  crepe.  For  middle-aged  persons  and 
married  individuals  of  any  age,  lavender  or  gray  was  used;  white 
was  always  for  children. 

At  the  hour  of  death  all  clocks  were  stopped  in  the  home  and  if 


Cemeteries  ~  55  * 

some  family  heirloom  refused  to  stop  it  was  broken,  if  necessary. 
Mirrors  were  covered,  and  the  crepe  hung  on  the  front  door. 
Many  families  had  special  coffee-pots,  which  would  hold  per- 
haps a  full  gallon,  which  they  reserved  only  for  wakes.  One  fam- 
ily in  New  Orleans  retained  the  same  pot  for  twenty  years,  and  it 
was  often  borrowed  for  wakes  by  friends  and  neighbors.  Some  of 
these  customs  still  exist. 

Hearse  drivers  wore  special  regalia,  including  high  black  hats 
known  as  beavers  and  black  suits  with  frock  tail  coats.  The 
hearses  themselves  were  very  black  and  very  shiny,  elaborately 
carved,  and  usually  contained  a  window  on  each  side  of  polished 
beveled  glass  through  which  the  flower-bedecked  coffin  could 
be  seen.  People  always  glanced  at  the  flowers  and  speculated  on 
whether  or  not  the  deceased  had  received  his  due.  Carriages  were 
provided  for  the  family  and  friends,  usually  in  greater  numbers 
than  are  the  limousines  of  today,  and  practically  all  the  women 
attending  wore  black  clothing  and  mournful  —  if  possible,  tear- 
streaked  —  faces. 

Mourning  raiment  could,  if  necessary,  be  bought  second  hand, 
as  in  the  following  advertisement  from  the  New  Orleans  Times, 
September  -LI,  1867: 

MOURNING  GOODS 

Black,  Double  and  Single  Dalaine,  Double  and  Single  Al- 
pacas, Tamise  and  every  description  of  Mourning  Goods  for 
sale  for  the  present  and  coming  season.  Two  hundred  slightly 
damaged  Delaine  Shawls  at  $1  worth  $5;  100  in  good  order 
from  $1.50  to  $4.  Fine  Delaine  Shawls  50^,  worth  75^.  $ios 
and  $ios  at  par. 

S.  G.  Kreeger 

No.  607  Magazine  street 

Mourning  was  so  widely,  and  so  frequently,  worn  —  since  it 
was  adopted  for  every  relative,  no  matter  how  distant  —  that 
the  business  must  have  been  a  profitable  one. 

Before  the  days  of  the  funeral  parlor,  when  everyone  was  bur- 
ied from  home,  people  of  less  than  moderate  means  were  often 
ashamed  of  their  poorly  furnished  houses.  Undertakers  remedied 
this  by  redecorating  the  place  before  the  funeral.  Carpets  were 


^ J2  —  Gtimbo  Ya-Ya 

laid,  fancy  lace  curtains  hung  at  the  windows,  appropriate 
touches  of  black  crepe  draped  here  and  there,  and  chairs  provided 
for  the  visitors  at  wake  and  funeral.  This  service  may  still  be 
secured,  though  in  New  Orleans,  an  increasing  number  of  fam- 
ilies use  the  mortuary  parlors.  One  old  man  said:  'Nowadays 
people  are  born  in  hospitals,  get  married  in  hotels,  buried  from 
the  undertaker's.  All  they  use  their  homes  for  is  a  place  to 
change  clothes/ 

The  New  Orleans  Courier  carried  the  following  announcements 
on  July  18,  1810: 

LOUIS  HOUDON 

No.  2.5,  St.  Louis  Street 

Has  the  honor  to  inform  the  public  that  he  has  formed  a  soci- 
ety with  MR.  FERNANDEZ,  Cabinet-maker,  St.  Ann  Street,  for 
the  decorating  of  Coffins  and  mourning  hangings  only.  They 
will  neglect  nothing  to  satisfy  those  persons  who  may  favor 
them  with  their  custom,  by  giving  4  hours  notice. 

MOURNING  HANGINGS   &  CATAFALQUE 

will  be  hired  on  moderate  terms  and  at  various  prices.  They 
will  also  undertake  to  hang  in  black  the  front  of  the  church  as. 
well  as  to  provide  coffin  furniture  at  reasonable  prices. 

Mr.  Houdon  continues  to  keep  his  store  in  St.  Louis  Street, 
where  he  makes  every  species  of  the  most  fashionable  orna- 
ments for  beds,  curtains,  etc.  Hangs  bells  in  chambers,  having 
lately  received  everything  necessary  for  the  purpose  —  Paints 
in  imitation  of  marble  or  wood.  Makes  and  sells  feather  beds, 
mattresses,  pillows,  bolsters  and  the  necessary  furniture. 

In  those  other  days,  the  days  of  thick  and  trailing  veils  for 
widows  and  mournful  black  for  children  as  young  as  three  years 
of  age,  it  was  considered  no  less  than  indecent  for  grief  to  be  re- 
strained. Lamentations  like  this  one,  from  the  Times-Democrat 
of  a  half  century  ago,  were  considered  beautiful. 

No !  'Tis  not  true  that  we  shall  never  more  see  his  face,  and 
hear  of  his  unselfish  and  charitable  deeds!  Oh,  no,  no,  no!  It 
cannot  be  that  ever  more  will  we  be  robbed  of  his  unselfish 
devotion  to  all  who  needed  his  assistance.  Oh,  Lazare,  Laz- 


Cemeteries  ~  55 5 

are!  Why  were  you  so  good  to  all  but  yourself!  Why,  oh,  why 
did  you  so  wrap  yourself  'round  the  heart  of  all  with  whom  you 
'came  in  contact,  only  to  be  ruthlessly  torn  away  from  them, 
laid  low  by  the  assassin's  bullet?  It  had  been  better  had  you 
not  been  so  good  and  so  unselfish;  then  the  blow  would  not  be 
so  hard  to  bear.  Oh,  'tis  too  much,  'tis  grief  unbearable! 
Flow  on,  thou  tears;  he  deserves  them  all.  But,  oh!  'tis  hard 
ro  have  to  choke  them  down,  for  the  doctor  says  I  must  not, 
inust  not  weep;  oh,  to  be  forbidden  to  even  weep  for  you, 
good,  good,  oh,  good  Lazare!  Tis  too  hard;  'tis  too  much 
wringing  of  the  heartstrings!  Oh,  the  tears;  oh,  the  wails  of 
the  broken  hearts  around  your  bier;  but  flow,  flow  thou  on, 
dear  tears;  he  was  worthy  of  them  all,  the  tears  of  the  sisters 
and  brothers  and  widows  and  orphans,  all,  all,  he  deserves 
them  all!  How  we  shall  miss  you,  miss  you,  Lazare!  Only 
thirty-seven  years  old,  and  to  be  laid  away  forever!  Never- 
more to  see  your  kind,  laughing  blue  eyes,  no,  nevermore! 
Oh,  Lazare! 

A  sister 

Morris  Hoy  recalled  a  strange  incident  which  occurred  in  New 
Orleans  some  years  ago,  when  a  woman  'died'  three  times  in  a 
day. 

'I'm  only  telling  you  what  I  seen  with  my  own  eyes,'  Morris 
said.  'It  was  either  in  1904  or  1905,  and  this  woman  was  about 
sixty  or  seventy  at  the  time.  She  did  some  sewing  for  a  family 
named  Heyl  that  lived  next  door  to  us.  One  day  Ira  Heyl  and 
me  went  to  her  for  his  mother  —  we  was  just  kids  then  —  and 
we  walked  in  and  seen  this  old  lady  sitting  at  her  machine  with 
her  head  down,  looking  awfully  funny.  We  called  to  her  and 
when  she  didn't  answer,  we  got  scared,  but  Ira  was  a  tough  kid 
and  he  lifted  her  head  and  said,  cool  as  you  please,  "Morris,  the 
old  lady's  croaked!" 

1  We  called  the  neighbors  and  a  lot  of  people  come  in,  including 
O'Toole,  a  cop  in  the  neighborhood,  so  plenty  people  saw  that 
old  lady  besides  Ira  and  me.  The  women  got  to  work  and  got  the 
corpse  dressed  and  laid  out  on  the  bed  and  I  swear  she  was  as 
dead  as  a  doornail.  Then  everybody  went  outside  to  wait  for  the 
undertaker  and  all  of  them  went  home  except  Ira  and  me.  We 
were  standing  there  and  all  of  a  sudden  we  heard  something.  Ira 


354  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

said,  "What's  that  I  hear?"  I  listened  and  then  I  sure  was 
skeered,  'cause  it  was  the  old  lady's  sewing  machine.  And  no- 
body in  that  house  but  her! 

'  Ira  had  to  do  a  lot  of  talking,  but  at  last  we  walked  on  in  — 
and  do  you  know  that  dead  woman  was  setting  there  sewing? 
"Oh,  hello,  Ira,"  she  said.  "I'll  have  your  mother's  things 
ready  in  a  few  minutes."  We  didn't  say  nothing.  We  just  dived 
out  the  door  and  started  running.  We  ran  right  smack  into  a 
neighbor,  Mrs.  Schroeder  —  and  her  heading  into  the  house. 
Ira  and  me  got  O'Toole,  the  cop,  and  come  back,  and  just  as  we 
got  there  here  come  Mrs.  Schroeder,  tearing  out  of  the  house  and 
screaming,  * '  Gott  in  Himmel!  Gott  in  Himmel!' '  She  grabbed  hold 
of  O'Toole  and  kept  saying,  "Mrs.  King's  come  back  from  the 
dead.  Ach,  Gott  in  Himmel!"  O'Toole  went  inside  and  come  out 
white  as  a  ghost.  "Glory  Be!"  he  cried.  " If  it  ain't  the  truth. 
The  old  girl's  risen  from  the  dead!" 

'Then  all  the  neighbors  that  had  come  to  see  her  dead  went  in 
to  see  her  alive  again. 

'Well,  about  an  hour  afterwards  Ira's  mother  asked  us  to  go 
see  Mrs.  King  again  about  her  sewing.  We  were  still  skeered  so 
we  got  O'Toole  and  all  three  of  us  walked  into  the  house  again. 
All  the  sewing  was  finished  and  piled  up  neatly  on  a  trunk,  and 
there  lay  the  old  lady  on  the  bed  —  dead  as  a  doornail  again. 
O'Toole  shook  her,  then  he  stuck  pins  in  her.  "Well,"  he  said, 
"she's  dead  again!"  We  got  Mrs.  Schroeder  and  Ira's  mother, 
Mrs.  Heyl,  and  then  what  do  you  think  we  noticed?  The  old 
lady  had  changed  clothes.  Remember  she  had  been  dressed  in 
her  burying  clothes  the  first  time  she  died.  Now  she  had  on  her 
old  clothes.  Now,  five  of  us  saw  that,  don't  forget  it!  That  ain't 
all.  We  waited  around  outside  for  the  undertaker,  and  O'Toole 
went  back  inside  for  a  few  minutes.  In  less  time  than  it  takes  to 
tell  about  it,  he  come  beating  it  back  out  white  as  a  ghost  again. 
"Guess  what?"  says  he.  "The  old  girl  has  changed  her  clothes 
again.  Now  she's  dressed  like  she  was  laid  out  before!"  The 
five  of  us  run  in  and,  sure  enough,  that  old  lady  had  changed  her 
clothes  again.  I'm  telling  you  the  truth.  That  old  lady  died 
three  times  in  about  two  hours.  This  last  time  she  was  croaked 
for  good.  They  buried  her.' 


Cemeteries 


—  155 


Eddie  Ybos  remembered  a  funeral  of  a  certain  man  during  a 
rainstorm  about  1895. 

'  This  day  it  teemed, '  he  said,  '  and  the  funeral  kept  waiting  for 
the  storm  to  stop.  People  didn't  embalm  much  then  and  the 
body  was  getting  very  bad.  You  could  hardly  stand  it  in  the 
parlor.  We  knew  something  had  to  be  done.  Some  of  the  men 
took  off  their  shoes  and  socks,  rolled  up  their  pants,  and  carried 
the  coffin  out  to  the  hearse.  The  next  thing  was  to  get  the  people 
into  their  carriages. 

'The  widow  of  that  dead  man  was  a  very  fat  lady;  must  have 
weighed  over  two  hundred  and  fifty  pounds.  You  know  in  them 
days  women  didn't  diet.  Well,  I  was  driving  the  family  carriage 
and  I  pulled  up  in  front  of  the  house  slowly  and  made  a  runway  of 
planks  from  the  front  steps  to  my  carriage.  The  widow  was  cry- 
ing and  shrieking  and  she  got  on  those  planks  with  the  men  all 
straining  to  hold  her  up.  This  was  her  big  moment  now,  you 
gotta  realize  that!  She  was  all  dressed  up  in  her  widow's  weeds 
and  a  heavy  black  veil,  and  she  was  bawling  to  beat  the  band. 
She  made  that  plank  fine.  It  swayed  and  wobbled,  but  every- 
thing was  all  right. 

'Then  it  happened.  As  she  went  to  get  into  the  carriage,  and 
had  one  foot  on  the  step,  her  weight  was  too  much  for  the  thing. 
It  tilted  over  and  all  the  water  that  had  collected  on  top  come 
down  on  her  like  Niagara  Falls.  She  let  out  a  yell  like  a  wild 
Indian,  forgot  all  about  her  husband,  and  began  shrieking  her 
beautiful  veil  was  ruined.  It  sure  was,  too.  It  was  rolled  up 
right  on  top  of  her  head  like  a  wet  ball. 

'  Yeah,  finally  we  got  her  into  the  carriage,  but  that  ain't  all. 
Her  sister,  who  was  much  fatter  than  she  was,  and  a  couple  of 
other  women,  was  right  behind  her,  and  when  the  carriage 
tilted,  kerplunk!  they  all  went  down  into  the  flood.  The  sister 
landed  flat  on  her  bottom  and  sat  there  with  water  almost  up  to 
her  neck  howling  like  a  hurt  dog.  "Oh,  my  leg  is  broke!  It's 
busted!  Get  a  doctor!"  It  sure  was  funny.  Everybody  started 
laughing. 

'We  finally  got  to  the  graveyard.  Then  we  had  to  use  a  flat- 
bottom  boat  to  get  the  coffin  to  the  tomb.  Everybody  just 
walked  through  the  water.  The  widow  was  already  wet  and  had 


3$  6-  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

her  veil  off,  so  she  decided  she  couldn't  get  any  wetter.  Years 
afterwards  they  would  laugh  and  say,  ' '  Remember  when  Charles 
died?"  And  the  grandchildren  would  say,  "Remember  when 
Grandpa  was  buried,  and  Grandma  ruined  her  beautiful  veil?" 


ALL  SAINTS'   DAY 

'It  sure  is  dead  around  here,'  remarked  Mr.  Saint  Pe,  standing 
in  the  center  of  Saint  Roch  Cemetery  Number  2..  '  The  men  ain't 
even  started  whitewashing  the  fences,  or  nothing.  How  the  hell 
they  expect  to  have  things  ready  for  All  Saints'  Day,  me,  I  don't 
know.  I  ain't  never  seen  a  year  slow  like  this  in  my  whole  entire 
life.' 

Mr.  Saint  Pe  referred,  of  course,  to  the  annual  clean-up  cam- 
paign which  takes  place  in  all  Louisiana  cemeteries,  starting  a 
week  or  two  before  All  Saints'  Day.  He  offered  the  information 
that  he  was  'just  passing  through  the  graveyard  like,'  and  ap- 
parently he  does  that  quite  often.  , 

Pointing  to  the  ruins  of  the  Mausoleum  of  Saint  Michael  the 
Archangel,  he  said:  'That  ain't  used  hardly  any  more.  They 
started  to  demolish  it  down,  but  they  found  out  they  can  some- 
times rent  a  vault  for  somebody  with  a  baby  to  bury  in  it. '  Then 
he  pointed  to  a  tomb.  'That's  old  Freddie  Dudenhopfer  in 
there,'  he  stated.  'He  was  the  man  who  owned  the  brewery's 
son.  He  run  off  with  a  girl  dancing  in  a  show,  you  see,  and  stole 
a  lot  of  money  from  the  City  Hall  where  he  was  working  at. 
Then  he  come  back,  got  married  and  lived  thirty  years.  Ended 
up  with  another  job  at  the  City  Hall.  Now  his  wife  —  the  poor 
thing!  —  comes  out  and  puts  flowers  on  his  tomb.' 

Mr.  Saint  Pe  rolled  his  eyes  expressively.  'I  just  hope  All 
Saints'  ain't  slipping,'  he  said,  rather  sadly.  'People  shouldn't 
let  nothing  beautiful  like  that  slip,  huh?'  He  added  softly,  in  an 
extremely  confidential  tone,  'I  love  flowers,  me!' 

It  seemed  the  cleaning  and  beautification  of  the  cemeteries  was 
actually  a  bit  slow  getting  started  in  1941,  but  of  course  it  did. 
They  came  slowly  at  first,  but  day  by  day  their  numbers  in- 
creased, until  by  the  afternoon  of  October  31  —  Halloween  after- 
noon, the  day  before  All  Saints'  Day  —  men,  women  and  chil- 


Cemeteries 

dren,  carrying  buckets  of  whitewash,  scrubbing  brushes  and  yel- 
low soap,  paint  and  gilt,  shears,  rakes,  trowels  and  spades, 
crowded  the  more  than  thirty  graveyards  of  New  Orleans,  scrub- 
bing and  whitewashing  tombs  and  plot  copings,  blackening  or 
silvering  ironwork,  gilding  epitaphs  and  battling  vigorously 
against  grass  and  weeds.  Louisianians  are  as  a  whole  great 
cemetery-goers  all  year  round,  but  even  most  of  those  who  don't 
attend  all  year  appear  for  this  occasion.  They  would  as  soon 
allow  the  family  place  to  appear  in  a  neglected  state  on  All 
Saints'  Day  as  would  a  Creole  dowager  attend  a  Mardi  Gras  ball 
wearing  her  third-best  wrapper  and  in  her  bare  feet. 

The  cemeteries  do  some  cleaning  themselves,  whitewashing 
the  high  brick  walls  that  surround  many,  cutting  grass  and 
weeds,  cleaning  walls,  attending  to  those  burial  places  which 
have  purchased  'perpetual  care,'  the  latter  a  sort  of  insurance 
some  of  them  offer.  Every  provision  is  usually  made  for  this  All 
Saints'  Day,  which  is  probably  to  the  dead  what  the  New  Or- 
leans Mardi  Gras  is  to  the  living  of  that  city.  Holt  Cemetery,  a 
Negro  graveyard,  for  instance,  had  six  new  graves  dug  —  'just 
in  case  we  have  some  funerals,'  explained  the  sexton.  'Nobody 
wants  to  stop  to  dig  graves  on  All  Saints'  Day.' 

Every  part  of  Louisiana  honors  the  day.  In  the  rural  sections 
to  the  south  —  'the  Cajun  country*  —  nocturnal  Mass  is  said  in 
the  cemeteries  Halloween  night.  Blessed  candles  are  lighted  on 
the  graves,  and  priests  perform  the  ancient  rites  of  the  Roman 
Catholic  Church  for  the  souls  of  the  departed.  Some  families 
spend  the  entire  night  beside  the  family  tomb,  praying,  lighting 
fresh  candles  as  the  old  ones  burn  out  —  all  with  a  faith  mar- 
velous to  behold.  Once  candles  were  burned  on  graves  in  New 
Orleans,  but  this  practice  has  been  discontinued. 

But  the  preparations  for  the  day  continue.  Mamma  and  the 
children  will  spend  at  least  one  morning  or  one  afternoon  at  the 
work.  Shoes  and  stockings  are  frequently  removed,  and  the 
walk  before  the  burial  place  is  'scrubbed'  with  a  broom  and  a 
bucket  of  water,  then  the  tomb  or  vault  is  cleaned.  Should  the 
vault  be  one  of  the  'ovens'  high  in  the  wall,  ladders  are  brought 
along  —  or  borrowed  from  the  sexton.  Later  Papa  will  probably 
appear  with  whitewash  and  a  brush  and  set  to  work.  Epitaphs 


3$ 8  -  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

are  blackened  or  gilded.  Lately  color  seems  to  be  coming  into 
its  own  in  New  Orleans  cemeteries.  While  there  was  always  a 
pink  tomb  to  be  seen  here  and  there,  lavender,  bright,  bright 
green,  sky  blue,  orange -yellow  and  silver  ones  were  seen  on  All 
Saints'  Day,  1941,  promising  endless,  though  rather  startling, 
possibilities  for  the  future. 

Young  white  boys  and  Negroes  haunt  the  cemetery  gates  for 
a  week  or  two  before  All  Saints',  stopping  everyone  entering  to 
offer  their  services  in  cleaning  the  graves,  or  selling  buckets  of 
sand,  which  is  frequently  used  to  cover  plots.  '  Clean  up  for  you, 
Mister?'  they  offer.  '  Wantcha  tomb  washed,  Lady?  I  got  sand, 
Lady.'  Hired,  they  go  to  work,  washing,  weeding,  whitewash- 
ing, their  trousers  rolled  above  their  knees,  their  feet  bare. 

The  women  meet  in  the  graveyard  and  gossip. 

'  Did  you  hear  about  Willie  Metz?  He's  dead,  you  know.  Had 
a  pain  in  his  back  and  dropped  in  his  tracks.  It  was  women  done 
it.  You  knew  Willie.' 

'Remember  poor  Mrs.  Grandjean?  Yes,  my  Gawd!  she's  been 
dead  over  a  month.  She  was  in  bed  almost  a  year,  poor  soul,  and 
her  daughter  didn't  go  near  her.  I  tell  you,  children  don't  do  you 
much  good.  They  always  find  out  too  late  how  they  need  you. 
When  a  mother's  dead,  children  ain't  got  nuttin'.  Wish  you'd 
have  heared  the  way  that  daughter  yelled  at  the  funeral.  I  gotta 
go  make  my  stations  now.' 

'  Stations?' 

'That's  just  what  I  call  it.  You  see,  I  got  my  daughter-in-law 
in  Saint  Louis  Number  i,  and  I  got  a  husband  and  a  daughter  in 
Number  x,  and  my  grandson's  in  Number  3,  and  my  second  hus- 
band's in  Saint  Roch's.  You  see,  I  gotta  fix  'em  all  up  for  All 
Saints',  so  I  call  it  making  the  stations.  The  husband  I  got  now 
wants  to  be  buried  in  that  Hope  Mausoleum,  but  I  tell  him,  ' '  My 
Gawd,  if  you  die  before  me,  and  I  have  to  go  to  your  place,  too, 
I'll  be  a  wreck!" 

A  young  woman  with  dark  hair  and  a  pretty  face  was  silvering 
a  fence  around  a  tomb  in  Saint  Vincent  de  Paul's.  Her  small  son, 
playing  in  the  walk,  called  out,  'Mamma,  what  time  does  it 
start?' 

'He  loves  All  Saints','  she  explained.  'He  sees  all  the  candy 
and  icecream  men,  and  he  thinks  it's  a  party.' 


Cemeteries 

A  fat  woman  rested  on  a  coping,  while  her  daughter  covered 
a  wooden  slab  in  a  vault  with  white  enamel.  Popping  her  gum 
loudly,  she  encouraged  the  girl  with,  'That  looks  swell,  kid. 
You're  doing  a  swell  job!  You  know  that's  the  same  enamel 
I'm  gonna  use  in  my  kitchen.  You  can  see  how  nice  it's  gonna 
look.  Gee,  that  looks  swell.' 

Suddenly  there  was  a  gust  of  wind  and  two  vases  filled  with 
filthy  water  toppled  from  the  shelf  of  the  vault  above,  streaming 
down  the  freshly  painted  slab  and  into  the  girl's  hair.  The 
mother  jumped  to  her  feet. 

'Oh,  God!  Oh,  God!'  she  screamed.  'Look  at  that!  Here, 
use  this  rag.  Get  it  off  the  slab  quick.  Don't  worry  about  that 
hair  of  yourn.  You  can  wash  that  when  you  get  home.  Oh, 
God!  Look  at  that  beautiful  enamel.  That's  them  Dupres  up 
there.  If  they  kept  their  place  decent  and  emptied  their  vases 
sometimes  that  wouldn't  happen.  Oh,  I  hope  you  can  get  it  off. 
Them  Dupres!  I  used  to  know  some  of  'em.  I  always  say  people 
must  keep  their  houses  just  like  they  keep  their  graves,  me!' 

Another  woman  came  quickly  down  the  walk,  placed  three 
chrysanthemums  in  a  vase,  then  slapped  her  hands  together 
briskly.  '  There !'  she  said.  '  Now  they  can  tell  I  been  here.  They 
always  talking  I  don't  come.  Well,  I  ain't  much  for  graveyards. 
I  say,  everyone  to  his  taste !  Now,  I  know  one  woman  and  ceme- 
teries is  her  hobby,  I  tell  you  the  truth.  When  her  husband  died 
she  had  to  build  a  great  big  expensive  tomb  and  all,  and  she's 
always  there  with  flowers  and  all.  I  say,  there's  always  remorse 
when  you  see  things  like  that.  That  poor  man  couldn't  hardly 
never  go  out  at  night  or  play  a  game  of  cards.  She  really  nagged 
him  to  death,  I  believe.  Sometimes  he'd  drink  a  little  bit,  and 
would  she  almost  kill  him!  Too  bad  she  couldn't  have  been  as 
good  to  him  when  he  was  alive  as  when  he's  dead.  But  now  the 
cemetery  is  her  hobby.  It's  all  she  lives  for.  They  got  lots  of 
people  like  that.'  She  sighed.  *  I  had  an  awful  thing  to  do  once. 
They  was  digging  up  my  Uncle  Henry  to  move  him,  and  some 
member  of  the  family  had  to  be  there  as  a  witness.  Of  course, 
they  picked  on  me!  I  was  scared  to  death.  They  pulled  him  out 
and  I  had  to  look  at  him.  Do  you  know  that  man  looked  just 
like  the  day  he  had  died,  his  mustache,  shroud  and  all.  His 


Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

flesh  was  solid.   Of  course,  I  could  easily  understand  how  he  got1 
petrified.   He  drank  so  much  he  got  pickled  from  the  inside  out!' 

The  flowers  usually  start  arriving  about  noon  of  Halloween, 
continue  until  well  after  dark.  Most  of  the  New  Orleans  grave- 
yards are  kept  open  until  about  9  P.M.  on  Halloween,  and  some- 
times people  bring  their  floral  offerings  on  their  way  to  parties. 
Many  cemeteries  keep  watchmen  there  that  night  to  ensure 
against  theft  or  vandalism.  Children  dressed  in  their  'ghost' 
costumes,  carrying  pumpkin  lanterns,  accompany  their  parents 
'to  put  out  the  flowers.' 

All  Saints'  Day  begins  early.  Soon  after  dawn  the  streetcars 
and  buses  are  packed  with  people  carrying  chrysanthemums 
wrapped  in  green  tissue  paper.  Everyone  wants  to  get  their 
flowers  out  as  early  as  possible,  if  they  have  neglected  to  place 
them  Halloween,  for  if  anyone  sees  their  tomb  or  grave  sans 
floral  adornment  it  will  cause  'talk.'  Many  Orleanians  actually 
shudder  with  horror  at  the  sight  of  an  undecorated  burial  place 
that  day,  and  will  almost  feel  called  upon  to  ostracize  the  '  heart- 
less* relatives  of  whoever  is  buried  therein. 

While  in  other  sections  of  the  country  graves  are  decorated  on 
Memorial  Day  and  All  Souls'  Day,  there  is  actually  no  counter- 
part of  this  day  elsewhere  in  the  United  States.  Here  there  is 
rivalry,  a  bit  of  envy,  much  gossip.  Woe  to  the  person  who 
places  a  cheap  bouquet  in  a  vase  for  All  Saints'  Day,  when  every- 
one knows  he  can  afford  better !  Chrysanthemums  —  often  as 
large  as  cabbages  —  are  the  'All  Saints'  flower,'  often  costing  a 
dollar  or  more  apiece.  Some  families  place  out  a  basket  contain- 
ing a  dozen  or  more  of  these.  Orleanians  will  go  hungry  to  buy 
flowers  for  this  occasion.  While  not  a  general  holiday,  State  and 
City  offices  and  banks  close,  and  many  other  business  places 
allow  employees  time  off  to  'go  to  the  cemeteries.'  It  is  an  ac- 
cepted fact  that  all  Orleanians  'go  to  the  cemeteries'  on  All 
Saints'  Day. 

As  the  day  proceeds  toward  noon,  cemetery  neighborhoods  are 
thickly  crowded.  Automobiles  and  streetcars  block  and  jam 
around  the  Metairie  section,  where  more  than  a  score  of  traffic 
police  are  on  special  duty.  Pedestrians,  bearing  their  flowers, 
cross  streets  at  great  peril,  run,  skip  and  leap  for  their  lives.  In 


Cemeteries  —  361 

such  large  cemeteries  as  Metairie  and  Greenwood  there  are  other 
policemen,  one  directing  traffic  at  every  turn  and  interesection. 
Vendors  line  the  street  curbings,  selling  peanuts,  popcorn,  ice- 
cream, hotdogs,  balloons  and  toys.  'Fresh  parched  peanuts!' 
they  cry.  'I  got  peanuts.  Five  cents  a  bag!  I  got  chewing  gum 
anda  candy!'  Negro  women  hawk  pecan  and  coconut  pralines, 
calling,  'Pyrines!  Pyrine  candy!'  Men  peddle  cold  drinks  from 
wooden  tubs  filled  with  ice. 

The  morning  of  the  1941  All  Saints'  Day  there  were  many  out 
—  a  large  white  pushcart  with  red  wheels,  green  awnings,  and 
with  an  American  flag  waving  gaily  from  the  top  sold  pralines, 
pecan  rolls,  nougat  and  other  candy,  besides  peanuts.  A  Mexican 
sold  hot  tamales  from  another  pushcart.  Across  the  street  from 
Greenwood  Cemetery  the  'Ritzy  Dot  Cafe'  offered  on  its  sign- 
board : 


TODAY'S  SPECIAL!    BLACK  PEAS  AND  RICE.     15  j£ 

^*£f 

ALL  KINDS  OF  SANDWICHES   iof$  and  15^. 

Other  peanut  wagons  passed,  most  of  them  decorated  with  col- 
ored crepe  paper  and  peanuts  strung  into  garlands.  At  cemetery 
gates  sandwiches  and  small  pies  were  sold  from  pasteboard  car- 
tons. Icecream  men  were  everywhere,  with  such  signs  as  'Try 
a  WHALE!  The  big  5^  frozen  goodie.'  Other  vendors  approached 
automobiles  at  stop  signs  to  offer  'Carmel  Crisp  Popcorn.' 

There  was  a  small  crowd  around  a  notice  posted  at  the  entrance 
to  Saint  Patrick's  Cemetery  Number  i,  which  read,  in  part: 

Dear  Lot  Owners  : 

In  line  with  our  plans  for  improving  these  cemeteries,  on 
and  after  Nov.  ist.  1941,  all  grass  mounds  that  have  not  re- 
ceived attention  and  were  overgrown  with  weeds  during  the 
past  year  will  be  removed.  All  open  spaces  will  be  leveled  to 
grade  in  order  to  control  grass  growth  next  year. 

The  St.  Patrick  cemeteries  are  now  in  a  position  to  offer  you 
first  class  grave  cleaning  service  at  a  rate  of  50^  a  month,  or 
$5  .00  a  year. 

The  notice  was  signed,  '  Rev.  Carl  J.  Schutten.'  There  were  many 
complaints  in  the  crowd,  protests  of  'I  can't  read.  I  didn't  bring 


5  6 2  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

my  glasses.'  A  young  nun,  who  had  been  kneeling  before  a 
grave,  rose  and  walking  quietly  over  to  the  notice  began  to  read 
it  aloud.  Sitting  on  the  coping  of  a  plot  within  the  cemetery,  a 
red-faced,  very  stout  Irishwoman  wept  profusely  and  at  the  same 
time  drank  beer  from  a  carton  of  six  bottles. 

By  noon  every  banquette  was  crowded,  some  still  arriving  with 
flowers,  but  most  strolling  from  one  graveyard  to  another,  since 
many  folk  'make'  as  many  cemeteries  as  possible  on  All  Saints' 
Day.  In  fact,  some  bring  or  buy  lunch  and  stay  from  dawn  until 
dusk.  And  there  is  nothing  sad  about  it  all.  Rather  there  is,  in 
general,  the  atmosphere  of  a  fiesta. 

Downtown,  on  Louisa  Street,  Saint  Vincent  de  Paul's  has 
more  than  its  share  of  this  spirit.  No  other  cemetery  has  so  many 
peddlers  and  vendors,  none  is  more  crowded,  and  none  clings 
more  firmly  to  the  old  ways.  At  least  until  1940  gumbo  and  hot 
coffee  were  still  sold  there,  and  that  year  one  grave  held  a  chipped 
white  saucer  in  which  reposed  a  slice  of  fruitcake !  Some  curious 
things  decorated  the  graves  and  vaults  on  All  Saints'  Day,  1941 
—  elaborate  paper  flowers,  a  huge  cross  of  pink  and  white  tissue 
paper  entirely  covering  one  grave,  holy  statues  enclosed  in  glass, 
flowers  in  tins  left  over  from  meats,  coffee,  jam,  pickles,  peanut 
butter  and  pork  and  beans  (and  no  one  ever  bothers  to  remove 
the  labels).  At  the  gates  vendors  offered  icecream,  candy,  pra- 
lines, peanuts,  apples  on  sticks,  soft  drinks,  balloons,  toy  birds 
flying  gaily  from  sticks,  hot  dogs  and  toy  skeletons. 

Outside  one  gate,  two  young  colored  women  sold  pralines 
from  a  wooden  table  on  the  banquette.  '  My  grandma  left  me  this 
recipe,'  explained  one.  'Nobody  makes  'em  quite  like  us. 
Grandma  was  a  hundred  years  old  when  she  died,  and  she  sold 
'em  here  up  to  the  last  year.  She  used  to  make  the  best  popcorn 
balls  in  town,  and  everybody  called  her  "Popcorn  Mary."  I 
didn't  make  none  of  them  this  year;  it's  been  too  wet  and  rainy.' 

A  customer  purchased  one  of  the  small  skeletons,  and  when  he 
bounced  it  up  and  down  from  the  rubber  attached  to  its  head,  the 
head  came  off.  There  was  some  argument,  and  finally  the  vendor 
gave  him  a  new  skeleton  and  he  went  strolling  down  an  aisle 
between  the  high  whitewashed  tombs  bouncing  his  toy  up  and 
down. 


Cemeteries  . 

A  woman  came  running  down  another  aisle,  seized  a  young 
girl  by  the  arm.  'Ain't  you  Teeny?'  she  gasped  excitedly.  'My, 
I  ain't  seen  you  in  years !  Honey,  I  knew  your  mother  long  before 
you  was  born.  My  God,  yes!  Come  on  over  and  meet  my  hus- 
band, Teeny.  Sure,  I  married  again,  but  he's  the  sweetest  thing. 
He  always  comes  to  Joe's  grave  wit'  me.  I  know  that  ain't 
nut  tin',  but  you  know  how  some  men  is.' 

Other  women  conversed  before  another  grave.  'Now,  what 
do  you  think  of  that !'  remarked  one.  '  I  knew  right  down  to  my 
toes  there  wouldn't  be  nothing  here.  Much  she  cares.  Got  one 
man  right  behind  the  other.' 

'She's  just  a  slut,'  said  her  friend  casually. 

Boys  walked  about  trying  to  sell  vases  —  '  Thoity  cents 
apiece.  Git  a  brand-new  vase  for  your  flowers  —  thoity  cents!' 
Others  sold  milk  bottles,  pickle  jars  and  like  containers  for  five 
cents,  and  these  brought  more  buyers. 

Many  vases  were  adorned  with  ribbons  of  satin  or  tulle,  some 
bearing  golden  letters  reading,  'Beloved,'  or  'To  Our  Loved 
One,'  or  'Grandmother  and  Papa  from  Children  and  Grand- 
children/ 

In  the  midst  of  it  all,  two  men  entered  carrying  a  casket.  The 
visitors  cleared  a  way  for  them  in  the  walks,  then  hurried  behind 
to  see  who  was  being  buried.  The  men  and  the  coffin  journeyed 
to  an  'oven'  in  the  rear  wall,  where  efforts  were  made  to  fit  the 
coffin  into  the  vault.  It  wouldn't  fit.  Then  one  of  the  men  said 
to  the  other:  'They're  just  gonna  have  to  buy  a  smaller  one. 
This'll  never  make  it.'  With  that  they  turned  around,  and  car- 
ried the  casket  back  down  the  aisle  and  out  of  the  cemetery. 
Apparently  the  big  gray  coffin  was  empty,  and  they  were  just 
ascertaining  whether  or  not  it  would  'make  it'  and  fit  into  the 
'oven.'  Everyone  returned  to  the  other  businesses  of  the  day. 
A  fat  and  female  cynic  plumped  herself  down  on  the  steps  of  a 
tomb,  removed  her  shoes,  and  groaned:  'My  God!  My  feets! 
This  is  just  a  big  show,  that's  all  it  is.  I  don't  know  why  I 
come.'  A  mother  passed  dragging  a  small  boy  by  one  arm.  He 
wore  his  tall,  pointed,  bright  orange  Halloween  hat  and  was 
engaged  in  blowing  noisily  upon  a  bright  orange  Halloween 
horn. 


^  64  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

Years  ago  there  were  many  things  to  be  seen  that  have  now 
vanished.  Nuns  used  to  beg  at  the  gate  of  each  New  Orleans  cem- 
etery, orphans  beside  them,  who  shook  coins  noisily  in  a  tin  pan 
or  rang  a  cowbell.  Negro  mammies,  resplendent  in  blue  calico, 
red  tignons  and  starched  white  aprons  and  fichues,  sold  steaming 
bowls  of  gumbo,  pralines  and  slices  of  pain  patate  —  the  last  a 
now  almost  forgotten  delicacy  of  sweet  potatoes,  baked  into  a 
sort  of  cake,  highly  seasoned  with  spices  and  black  pepper  — 
fanning  their  wares  with  colorful  chasse  mouches  —  fly  whips, 
made  of  strips  of  vari-colored  paper. 

The  observance  of  the  day  seems  to  be  as  old  as  the  city, 
brought  over,  of  course,  from  Latin  Europe.  Creoles  used  many 
elaborately  designed  wreaths  of  beads  on  wire  frames,  more 
artificial  flowers  than  now,  these  often  made  from  fish  scales, 
wax  or  metal,  as  well  as  paper.  Royal  Street  establishments 
specialized  in  such  adornments,  families  demanding  special  and 
individual  '  made  to  order'  designs,  not  wanting  anything  simi- 
lar to  their  friends'  displays.  Tombs  were  frequently  draped  in 
black  crepe  and  velvet,  and  vigil  lights  were  burned  before  the 
slabs,  with  crowns  of  jet  beads  topping  all.  A  few  days  after  All 
Saints'  Day  the  designs  were  usually  returned  to  the  family  so 
that  they  might  be  reused  another  time. 

The  dahlia,  rather  than  the  chrysanthemum,  was  formerly  the 
most  popular  flower.  As  there  were  comparatively  few  florists, 
most  flowers  were  homegrown.  Coxcombs  —  a  coarse  red 
flower  resembling  a  rooster's  headdress  —  once  enjoyed  a  great 
vogue  among  poorer  Creoles.  Some  families  used  so  many  flow- 
ers that  a  horse  and  wagon  was  hired  to  convey  the  whole  to  the 
cemetery.  Often  servants  were  left  to  spend  the  day  beside  the 
family  tomb,  to  prevent  theft  or  destruction.  Rosaries  draped 
the  slabs,  and  may  still  be  seen  occasionally.  Besides  food  and 
refreshment,  vendors  sold  statues  of  saints  from  trays,  potted 
plants,  wreaths.  Many  people  made  their  own  wreaths,  and  for 
days  before  the  great  event,  the  house  would  be  littered  with 
paraphernalia  for  these  creations.  A  favorite  type  was  of  black 
beads  and  wire,  with  a  central,  glass-enclosed  section  containing 
strands  of  hair  from  the  head  of  the  deceased. 

Creoles  kept  close  watch  over  who  visited  whose  tombs,  for 


Cemeteries  —  3  6  5 

this  had  all  sorts  of  amazing  implications.  Should  a  widower 
fail  to  be  seen  at  the  resting  place  of  his  dead  wife,  it  indicated 
he  was  about  to  remarry;  even  so,  some  scorn  was  felt  at  his 
neglect.  Old  ladies  would  spend  the  day  seated  on  the  wrought- 
iron  benches  then  so  numerous  in  the  cemeteries,  saying  their 
rosaries,  but  with  one  eye  on  the  beads  and  the  other  on  who 
came  and  departed.  Even  tears  were  almost  counted,  one  by  one, 
and  a  certain  number  were  expected  under  certain  circumstances. 
It  was  virtually  impossible  to  find  a  grave  without  a  flower. 
Should  a  family  die  out,  some  friend  or  acquaintance  would  re- 
member to  leave  at  least  a  single  blossom  on  All  Saints'  Day. 
One  gradually  aging  Negress  brought  one  flower  every  year  to 
the  tomb  of  a  white  soldier  killed  in  the  War  Between  the  States. 
At  the  end  of  more  than  forty  years  the  flower  ceased  to  appear; 
then  everyone  knew  she  had  died.  During  the  last  years  of  the 
nineteenth  century  Negresses  were  often  seen  placing  flowers  on 
the  graves  of  white  men,  and  gossip  always  had  it  that  they 
were  the  former  mistresses  of  the  white  men  they  thus  honored. 

Though  some  of  the  things  belonging  to  an  earlier  era  have 
vanished,  there  seems  little  chance  of  the  whole  'slipping,'  as 
Mr.  Saint  Pe  so  aptly  put  it.  The  cemeteries  were  as  crowded  as 
ever  in  1942..  In  the  Roman  Catholic  ones,  priests  appeared  at 
three  o'clock  in  the  afternoon,  and  '  blessed'  all  the  graves,  walk- 
ing swiftly  up  and  down  the  aisles,  sprinkling  holy  water  and 
trailed  by  swarms  of  people. 

But  All  Saints'  Day  is  not  entirely  Catholic.  The  Protestant 
and  non-sectarian  graveyards  are  as  crowded  and  as  flower-be- 
decked as  any  of  the  Catholic  ones,  for  the  day  has  become  the 
day  to  'put  out  flowers'  and  to  'go  to  the  cemeteries.' 


Chapter  17 


Riverfront  Lore 


THERE  IS  MAGIC  IN  THE   YELLOW  WATER  OF   THE 

Mississippi  River  as  it  flows  through  Louisiana,  especially  at 
New  Orleans.  A  visitor  who  drinks  of  it  will  surely  return  to 
that  city;  if  he  washes  his  face  in  it,  his  luck  is  bound  to  change 
from  bad  to  good.  And  because  all  New  Orleans  water  comes 
from  the  river  there  is  no  way  he  can  avoid  doing  either.  The 
river  water  is  beautifying,  too;  everybody  knows  all  Louisiana 
women  are  beautiful.  Furthermore,  it  increases  fecundity. 
Women  who  cannot  bear  children  in  any  other  part  of  the  world 
invariably  become  pregnant  within  a  year  after  their  arrival  in 
Louisiana. 

If  you  are  suffering  under  a  voodoo  curse,  if  some  potent  gris- 
gris  has  been  concocted  to  do  you  harm,  it  is  wise  to  hire  a  skiff 
and  row  across  the  river.  When  you  get  to  the  other  side,  you 
step  on  land;  then  you  get  right  back  in  the  skiff  and  start  for  the 
side  from  which  you  came.  In  the  middle  of  the  stream  stop 
and  throw  a  coin  over  your  left  shoulder.  That  will  break  the 
most  powerful  curse  an  enemy  can  place  upon  you. 

However,  you  must  be  careful  of  the  river,  too,  for  there  are 
bad-luck  things,  as  well  as  good-luck  things.  You  must  never 


Riverfront  Lore 

throw  an  animal  or  fowl  into  the  Mississippi.  That  is  almost 
the  most  dangerous  thing  you  could  possibly  do. 

•And  the  riverfront  is  alive  with  ghosts,  ghosts  of  murdered 
seamen  and  river  pirates  and  stevedores,  of  great  early  explorers 
and  of  ignominious  'wharf  rats,'  bad  ghosts,  good  ghosts  and 
just  plain  ghosts,  Jakie  Walker  met  a  ghost  one  day  and  the 
ghost  did  him  a  lot  of  good.  Jakie  was  a  roustabout  and  had 
been  working  on  the  river  for  more  than  thirty  years,  knew 
most  of  its  secrets  and  all  its  tricks,  so  undoubtedly  the  story  is 
perfectly  true. 

Jakie  had  enjoyed  a  very  hectic  evening.  He  was  quite  drunk. 
Now  that  the  party  was  over  and  his  friends  had  all  drifted 
homeward,  worry  of  the  most  profound  sort  began  to  seep  into 
his  somewhat  befogged  brain.  Mostly  on  account  of  his  wife. 
Jakie's  wife  was  one  of  those  strong-minded  females  with  an 
antipathy  to  drinking  husbands.  Sometimes  she  beat  Jakie. 
That  was  why  he  decided  not  to  go  home  until  his  condition  was 
less  obvious.  He  started  walking  and  before  he  realized  where 
he  had  been  drifting  he  found  himself  on  the  wharves  where  he 
worked. 

'I  jest  drifted  around  out  there,'  he  explained.  'I  seen  the 
watchman,  but  he  knowed  me,  so  he  didn't  say  nothin'  but, 
"Jakie,  what  you  doin'  out  here  lookin'  like  you  sick?"  I  told 
him  'bout  my  woman  and  he  jest  laughed  and  let  me  alone. 

'  It  felt  real  good  out  there,  you  know,  with  the  wind  from  the 
river  blowin'  in  my  face  and  all  them  nice  river  smells.  I  found 
me  a  corner  and  set  myself  down  to  rest  and  try  to  think  what  I 
could  tell  that  woman  when  I  got  home.  I  didn't  go  to  sleep. 
No,  sir.  I  kept  me  eyes  wide  open.  Then  it  happened.  Man,  I'm 
tellin'  you  straight,  I  can  still  see  that  thing!  It  ain't  no  word 
of  lie,  either. 

'That  thing  come  driftin'  right  over  the  top  of  the  river.  It 
was  shaped  jest  like  a  man  —  only  it  weared  a  long  black  gown 
what  dragged  behind  it  for  a  long  piece.  That  thing  kept  comin'. 
It  come  slowly,  too.  I  wanted  to  run,  but  I  couldn't.  I  wanted 
to  holler,  but  I  couldn't.  It  got  closer  and  closer  to  me.  I  swear 
I  could  feel  the  heat  of  that  thing  on  my  body  —  that  thing  was 
burnin'  and  burnin'  right  into  me.  Looked  like  it  wanted  to 


5  68  —  Gumbo  Ya-Ya 

crawl  through  my  eyes!   And  I  couldn't  do  nothin'.   I  had  hell 
on  my  hands. 

'Then  all  of  a  sudden  my  voice  come  back.  I  jest  opened  my 
mouth  and  the  words  come  out. 

"What  I  got  you  want?"  I  yelled,  with  that  thing  right  there 
blowin'  its  breath  in  my  face.  "What  I  got  you  want?" 

'You  know  that  thing  didn't  say  nothin'  right  away?  Jest 
stood  there,  lookin'  at  me;  and  I  set  there  just  lookin'  at  it.  Then 
them  lo